The Fourth Grade Project


In the past decade, acclaimed artist Judy Gelles interviewed and photographed more than 300 fourth-grade students from a wide range of economic and cultural backgrounds in China, England, India, Israel, Italy, Nicaragua, St. Lucia, South Africa, Dubai, South Korea, and multiple areas of the United States. She asked all of the students the same three questions: Who do you live with? What do you wish for? What do you worry about? Their varied stories touch on the human condition and urgent social issues. In 2015, Gelles talked about the photographic series at TEDxPenn.

The students’ stories capture the gamut of societal issues that we face today: violence, immigration, the demise of the nuclear family, global hunger, and the impact of the media and popular culture. The combination of frontal and reverse portraits allowed for the development of both personal and universal stories and derived from the subject care-taker’s reactions to photography in each country. In the US, photographing from the front can be problematic because of privacy issues. In China, it is considered disrespectful to photograph from the back. In India, parents and teachers made no objections to either frontal or back portraits. In all of the portraits across the spectrum of countries, the children are presented as individuals; however, their stories speak to greater pervasive truths and problems within our society. Told in their own words, these children’s stories touch on some of our most pressing social issues and common human experiences.

“A notable commonality across all schools is that every group of fourth-graders has very little contact with or knowledge of people from cultural or socioeconomic backgrounds different than their own. Nine-year-old children are on the cusp of adolescence. They are able to think critically and consider relationships to be very important. They are socially conscious, interested in helping others, and openly curious about the world. It is also a moment in children’s development when worldviews start to become entrenched and paths for the future start to become more set. The project allows students to learn about others’ lives in a uniquely personal way and to use the project as a catalyst for their own explorations.” Gelles said.

The Fourth Grade Project connects viewers locally and globally, bridging cultural differences by fostering a strong, tolerant, and global student community. The project helps to decrease isolation and prejudice while asserting that every person’s story matters. The exhibition is accompanied by interactive resources for museum educators and teachers, with lesson plans and programming ideas focusing on global understanding and tolerance. Spanish narrative translations are also available as a downloadable file that can be printed and used for an in-gallery handout.

Judy Gelles (1944–2020) received her MFA in photography from the Rhode Island School of Design and her Masters in Counseling from the University of Miami. She had a long-time focus on themes of family and children, with work in major collections including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She had residencies at the MacDowell Colony, the Visual Studies Workshop, and the Atlantic Center for the Arts. Awards include a grant from the Lomax Family Foundation, an Individual Artist Grant from the Rhode Island state Council on the Arts, an Independence Foundation Fellowship in the Arts, a Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation Artist as Catalyst Grant, a grant from WYBE Public Television, a Philadelphia Stories New Program Grant, and a Fleisher Challenge Artist Exhibition. In 2013, Critical Mass listed her as one of the top 50 photographers in the US. In 2015, she presented The Fourth Grade Project as a TEDx talk. Her work has been featured in Ms. Magazine; Vision Magazine, Beijing, China; Camerawork; New Art Examiner; Artweek, and Photography Now.

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Tour Schedule

The Fourth Grade Project is touring September 2020 through August 2025. The dates below reflect seven-week exhibition periods. Dates are subject to change; please contact or (800) 473-3872 x208/209 for current availability.

  • January 28–May 3, 2021 Washakie Museum & Cultural Center
    Worland, WY
  • June 1–January 7, 2022 Kansas City Public Library
    Kansas City, MO
  • January 28–May 25, 2022 Washington State Historical Society
    Tacoma, WA
  • June 16, 2022–January 7, 2023 The Bullock Texas State History Museum
    Austin, TX
  • January 28–March 16, 2023 Chelsea District Library
    Chelsea, MI
  • April 6–May 25, 2023 Refurbishment
    Kansas City, MO
  • June 16–August 11, 2023 University of Georgia, Russell Library for Political Research & Studies
    Athens, GA
  • September 1–October 20, 2023 Pulaski Technical College
    North Little Rock, AR
  • November 10, 2023–January 7, 2024 City of Lake Charles
    Lake Charles, LA
  • January 28–March 16, 2024 Willa Cather Center
    Red Cloud, NE
  • June 16–August 11, 2024 Chandler Museum
    Chandler, AZ
  • September 1–October 20, 2024
  • November 10, 2024–January 7, 2025 Temple Railroad & Heritage Museum
    Temple, TX
  • January 28–March 16, 2025 Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Museum
    Enid, OK
  • April 6–May 25, 2025 Arts Council of Fayetteville
    Fayetteville, NC
  • June 16–August 11, 2025 Living History Farms
    Urbandale, IA
  • September 1–October 20, 2025
  • November 10, 2025–January 7, 2026
  • January 28–March 16, 2026
  • April 6–May 25, 2026
  • June 16–August 11, 2026
  • September 1–October 20, 2026
  • November 10, 2026–January 7, 2027
  • January 28–March 16, 2027
  • April 6–May 25, 2027
  • June 16–August 11, 2027
  • September 1–October 20, 2027
  • November 10, 2027–January 7, 2028
  • January 28–March 16, 2028 Refurbishment at M-AAA
    Kansas City, MO
  • April 6–May 25, 2028 The McKinley Museum
    Canton, OH
  • June 16–August 11, 2028
  • September 1–October 20, 2028
  • November 10, 2028–January 7, 2029
  • January 28–March 16, 2029
  • April 6–May 25, 2029
  • June 16–August 11, 2029
  • September 1–October 20, 2029
  • November 10, 2029–January 7, 2030
  • January 28–March 16, 2030
  • April 6–May 25, 2030
  • June 16–August 11, 2030
  • September 1–October 20, 2030

Exhibition Details

72 photographs by Judy Gelles

  • Content

    Fee Includes
    Press Kit
    Registrar’s Packet
    Programming Guide
    Gallery Guide
    Text Panels
    Narrative Labels
    Full Insurance
    Installation Instructions
    Custom-Designed and Built Crates

  • Curated By

  • Organized By

    ExhibitsUSA, Mid-America Arts Alliance, Kansas City, MO

  • Out-of-Region Rental Fee


  • In-Region Rental Fee


  • Duration

    seven-week display

  • Shipping

    Van Line

  • Running Feet

    150 minimum (if double hung)

  • Square Feet


  • Security

    Moderate B

  • Number of Crates/Total Weight

    4 crates estimated/TBD

  • Insurance

    The exhibition is fully insured by ExhibitsUSA at no additional expense to you, both while installed and during transit.

Downloads & Resources

Click HERE to view and download the Factsheet for The Fourth Grade Project.