One morning last year, Broadmoor Senior High art teacher Dorthy Ray went into her classroom and asked her students to think about what bothers them for their next photo assignment. She wanted them to practice critical thinking. So she asked them to choose an issue to photograph and capture it from their own perspective.
After some thought, the students jokingly mentioned the conditions of the classrooms. Though they were laughing at first, the students soon began sharing the hard truths behind the joke: how the classrooms smell, the ceilings are missing tiles and covered in stains from water damage. When Ray asked them to choose a name for the project, a student said, “No body wants to be here.”
Through the candid conversation, an art exhibition was born a year later. From May 5-7, Broadmoor Senior High photography students are opening a group exhibition at Mid City art gallery Yes We Cannibal. Titled “No Body Wants to Be Here,” the exhibit will feature more than 20 film photos that showcase how the students experience their dilapidated surroundings at the school.
“This is my first year at Broadmoor, and this is probably one of the worst schools I’ve been to,” says Broadmoor junior Amere Duncan, who’s participating in the show. “It affects people’s mental health. Students are drained and exhausted. I think it’s very important for people to come and see the show so they can see what we go through.”
Ray started teaching a photography course at Broadmoor in 2020. She purchased a box of twenty 35-millimeter film cameras on eBay for the students to learn to develop and print their own film. As the students began to think about how to storytell through photos, conversations emerged like the discussion about their school’s condition.
“I knew it’d be worth a show immediately, because it was something that everyone was passionate about,” Ray says. “But I had to get them technically sound with working the cameras and slow down enough to understand that taking a photo and making a photo were completely different concepts.”
In haunting, black-and-white stills, the students captured rusty bathroom mirrors, missing ceiling tiles, broken water fountains, walls with chipped paint and broken lockers. The art will be paired with a soundtrack of the students talking about their work and sharing stories about their high school experience.
“School should not be scary,” Ray says. “Imagine processing the teenage experience, and the ceiling is literally falling.”
Broadmoor Senior High’s conditions are a reflection of the disproportionate funding invested in schools where people of color are the majority. At Broadmoor Senior High School, 94% percent of students are minorities, 69% are Black and 53% are economically disadvantaged, according to the U.S. News & World Report. By contrast, Baton Rouge Magnet High—where 35% of students are Black and 16% are at an economic disadvantage—is currently U.S. News & World Report’s top-ranked public school in Baton Rouge. Broadmoor is not ranked and has a 58% graduation rate, which is below the state average.
Down the street, the vacant Broadmoor Middle School campus that was awaiting renovations will now be transformed into a visual and performing arts magnet school for grades 6-12. In November 2021, the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board approved the plans for the new arts conservatory. It is scheduled to open in fall 2023, and a year later plans to add high school students (whose admittance will be determined by an interview and portfolio review). Broadmoor Elementary School will also focus on visual and performing arts and serve as a feeder for school. Changes or plans for Broadmoor Senior High have not been announced.
Ray believes the renovations to the neighborhood schools aren’t happening soon enough.
“The physical environment is the first place to give your mind an opportunity to choose a positive response,” Ray says. “We need to see surroundings that look peaceful. That controls our inner peace, too.”
Until those surroundings are made peaceful, the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” will continue to ring true for the photography students at Broadmoor Senior High. Through their work, the students hope to spread awareness about the school’s deteriorating building and ensure the school will get the funding needed to obtain an education in a safe, healthy and inspiring environment.
“I hope this exhibition receives the awareness it deserves, so Broadmoor High School can be exposed,” Duncan says. “Students should want to come to school and enjoy it. We can’t do that if no one knows the struggle here.”
View “No Body Wants to Be Here” at Yes We Cannibal on May 5-7 at 1600 Government St.
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