The Fourth Grade Project
Over the past ten years, acclaimed artist Judy Gelles has 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 says.
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.
Judy Gelles received her MFA in photography from the Rhode Island School of Design and her Masters in Counseling from the University of Miami. She has 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 has 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.
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 MoreArt@maaa.org or (800) 473-3872 x208/209 for current availability.
September 1, 2020–January 7, 2021
Washington State Historical Society
Tacoma, WA booked
January 28–March 16, 2021
Washakie Museum & Cultural Center
Worland, WY booked
April 6–May 25, 2021
July 11–October 20, 2021
Kansas City Public Library
Kansas City, MO booked
November 10, 2021–January 7, 2022
January 28–March 16, 2022
April 6–May 25, 2022
June 16–August 11, 2022
September 1, 2022–January 7, 2023
The Bullock Texas State History Museum
Austin, TX booked
January 28–March 16, 2023
Chelsea District Library
Chelsea, MI booked
April 6–May 25, 2023
Kansas City, MO booked
June 16–August 11, 2023
September 1–October 20, 2023
Pulaski Technical College
North Little Rock, AR pending
November 10, 2023–January 7, 2024
January 28–March 16, 2024
April 6–May 25, 2024
Montezuma, KS pending
June 16–August 11, 2024
September 1–October 20, 2024
Keeweenaw National Historic Park
Calumet, MI booked
November 10, 2024–January 7, 2025
January 28–March 16, 2025
April 6–May 25, 2025
June 16–August 11, 2025
72 photographs by Judy Gelles
Custom-Designed and Built Crates
ExhibitsUSA, Mid-America Arts Alliance, Kansas City, MO
Out-of-Region Rental Fee
In-Region Rental Fee
150 minimum (if double hung)
Number of Crates/Total Weight
4 crates estimated/TBD
The exhibition is fully insured by ExhibitsUSA at no additional expense to you, both while installed and during transit.