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"Inside Out" Art Project Reflects Redding's Heart

Credit Valerie Ing/JPR
Just a few of the Inside Out portraits, on the wall of the Cascade Theatre in Redding

A recent Gallup poll named Redding as America’s third-most miserable city to live in. When nearly 500 residents were asked about their housing, job satisfaction, emotional and physical health and more, the city ranked 187th out of 189 communities polled.

Now, a local artist has brought to Redding a global participatory art project called Inside Out.  She hopes the project’s startling approach to humanizing the urban landscape can help Redding get its groove back.

For years, Redding’s downtown core has been plagued with homelessness, crime, vandalism, drugs and aggressive panhandling. 

Last year, Redding artist Katrina Keyes heard a TED talk by the Parisian artist known as JR. JR’s Inside Out project in developing and troubled countries featured large-format black and white portraits pasted on urban walls, even rooftops. The idea was to take residents’ personal identities, turn them into public art, and then start changing the world by changing the way we see ourselves and our neighbors. Keyes says she was inspired.

Katrina Keyes: "I’m not a big talker. I like to do things."

Keyes was living just a few blocks from the center of downtown. She knew there was vibrant life inside the walls of its buildings, but that from the outside, downtown seemed pretty barren. So she decided to introduce the people on the inside of the walls to those outside.

Katrina Keyes: “You  know, a community is not the sum of its problems. It’s the sum of the hearts of its people. Each person, we have our own difficulties in life. It’s life. But we’re not the sum of them. We’re the sum of what’s in our heart.”

Keyes took photo portraits of almost 250 people who work, live or volunteer downtown, blew them up into 3 foot tall images, and pasted them onto the exterior walls of prominent buildings. She also asked each participant to fill out questionnaires, which would be posted online.

Katrina Keyes: “The web component is just as important as the portraits. Maybe a little more. You can go and see everyone’s portrait. You can also click and scroll down, and read the answers to the questionnaire. Questions are like 'What encourages you?' 'What is beautiful to you?' 'What do you enjoy about Redding and why?'” 

Working through several weekends and all night long, Keyes finished the installation just a few hours before the city’s annual Asphalt Cowboy’s pancake breakfast, a tradition for more than 50 years celebrating Redding’s Rodeo Week.  More than 10,000 people ate pancakes and sausage patties in the shadow of the portrait covered walls.

Keyes gathered many of the online questionnaire responses, and posted them on the walls. Then she put up a giant blank canvas so that anyone walking by could pick up a sharpie and make their own statement .

Rocky Slaughter, a 20-something who grew up Redding, stands in front of the wall, sharpie in hand.

Rocky Slaughter: "I’m actually thankful for the Gallup Poll …and a couple of these other reiterations of the same thing – the Wall Street Journal said that we’re the third most miserable city in America. I’m thankful because it’s sort of become a rallying cry to get people focused on making this place better."

Slaughter said he thought the Inside Out portraits could offer a perspective for the community in Redding to see beyond the problems.

Rocky Slaughter: "You don’t get that kind of kick in the pants or the cattle prod until you see the writing on the wall. And we’re literally changing the writing on the wall."

Slaughter says there are so many platforms available these days for people to be negative, that Keyes should be credited for finally providing a platform for people to be positive. Redding City Councilor Francie Sullivan, whose portrait is on one of the walls downtown, agrees.

Francie Sullivan: "It is the time to stand up and talk about how much we love Redding. We have let the people who want to point out our shortcomings have the loudest voice here, and it’s time to stop that. The rest of us need to stand up and say many of us choose to live here.”

Sullivan says too many people tend to highlight  the city's problems instead of what makes Redding a great place to live.

Francie Sullivan: "I love Redding. I never see myself living anyplace else. I don’t see how anyone could walk across any of our bridges or ride a bike across any of our bridges and not fall in love with Redding all over again."

For Katrina Keyes, bringing the Inside Out project to her home town was her contribution to what she hopes will be a growing effort to bring energy back into downtown Redding.

Katrina Keyes: "If you don’t like something, if you’re frustrated with life, if you don’t like where you live, how you live, what are you gonna do? And so I just decided to do something ... And I think that is one of the keys for Redding and downtown, is that we decide we’re gonna do something positive, and just do it."

Learn more at www.insideoutredding.com

Valerie Ing was a teenager when she hosted her first music program on the airwaves. As a student at SOU, she was JPR’s Chief Student Announcer and the first volunteer in our newsroom. She's now JPR’s Northern California Program Coordinator, hosting Siskiyou Music Hall from JPR's Redding studio in the Cascade Theatre.