The Fourth Grade Project

Bridging cultural differences by building a global student community

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Over the past ten years, acclaimed artist Judy Gelles has interviewed and photographed more than 300 fourth-grade students around the world, asking them each of these three questions. Who do you live with? What do you wish for? What do you worry about?

This exhibition captures fourth graders at a turning point when their worldviews are beginning to take shape. They are thinking critically, developing deep relationships, and are interested in learning about and helping others. Artist Judy Gelles has harnessed that interest to bring disparate cultures together in the same room. By placing them side by side, she sends two vital messages: all of these cultures are different but equally valuable; and all of these cultures are alike in essential ways. Told in the fourth graders’ own words, their varied stories touch on the human condition and urgent social issues.

The stories from The Fourth Grade Project have the power to transform students’ worldviews. Understanding others’ hopes and fears will foster a greater commitment to global understanding, empathy and acceptance.InLiquid

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.

Inside the Exhibition

The exhibition features 65 portraits of fourth grade students from 10 countries. The students are from a wide range of economic and cultural backgrounds. Despite their differences, their experiences capture the gamut of societal issues that we face today.

  • Violence
  • Immigration
  • Demise of the nuclear family
  • Global hunger
  • Impact of the media and popular culture

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 challenges within our society.

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 Fourth Grade Project is a program of ExhibitsUSA, a national division of Mid-America Arts Alliance with Texas Commission on the Arts and The National Endowment for the Arts.

The Bullock Texas State History Museum is a division of the State Preservation Board. Additional support of exhibitions and programs is provided by the Texas State History Museum Foundation.

Above banner images courtesy Judy Gelles (left to right): St. Lucia Portrait (St. Lucia Public School), 2015; Yakima Portrait (USA Washington Public School [Yakima Indian Reservation]), 2016; China Portrait (China School for Migrant Workers' Children), 2010; England Portrait (England Preparatory School), 2014, Courtesy of Pentimenti Gallery, Philadelphia.