Back in 2019 our Cofounder & Creative Director, Kevin Bruinsma, had the idea to do an 80’s themed fashion shoot for a local Northwest Indiana lifestyle magazine called HERE. Although the shoot was going to have a rad 80’s vibe, Kevin’s vision for the project centered more around the idea of empowerment. During the brainstorming process the #CTFOB (Change The Face of Beauty) hashtag caught Kevin's attention. A model named Madeline Stuart was making waves in the fashion industry for being the 1st supermodel to have down syndrome. Kevin wondered if anyone within the Northwest Indiana disability community would be interested in modeling? He put the word out to a friend who started a ministry for those with special needs at a local church. The response was unbelievable! The challenge wasn’t finding models, it was narrowing it down to four. The fashion shoot turned out to be a wild night involving amazing outfits, big hair, roller skates, bikes with banana seats, and a beautiful 1980 stingray corvette.
However, for Kevin, the excitement that followed the shoot came to a halt when the freelance designer who was hired to do the layout for the magazine questioned the intent of the project. This person has a family member with down syndrome and felt that “putting them on display” was unnecessary.
“I was crushed and heartbroken that my character and intention for the project was being questioned. However, I’m glad it was because it caused me to really look at what we were creating and why.” said Kevin.
Before Kevin pulled the plug on the project he sought out counsel from his good friend Vinnie Adams. Vinnie has worked alongside those with special needs for years. Vinnie had a lot of great insights, but two things really stood out to Kevin. The first was the 5 stages of changing attitudes. In this document created by Dan Vander Plaats it shows that the main goal for collaborating with a marginalized group of people is becoming co-laborers. Simply working together and letting diversity become a superpower. The second piece of wisdom that stuck with Kevin was when Vinnie said “Never speak for someone who has their own voice”.
Fast forward four years later, Christine Longo, Executive Director of the Down Syndrome Association Northwest Indiana reached out to Real Video Production Co. to discuss some marketing efforts. Longo thought it best to invite Real Video out to their Friendship Center in Schererville for one of their weekly events. “I can’t explain it. You just have to come out and experience it” Longo said. A week or so later, Kevin and his family headed over to the DSANWI for craft night. “I was a little nervous being a complete stranger entering into a very tight knit community but as soon as I entered it was nothing but hugs, handshakes and an acceptance like I have never experienced before” Kevin said.
In the back of the room beneath the karaoke screen, Kevin spotted two familiar faces. Olivia Longo and Cole Thompson. Two of the models from the fashion shoot that happened in 2019. The three connected instantly and reminisced about how much fun the project was. Friends of Olivia and Cole caught wind of the conversation and mentioned that if a project like that happened again, they would love to be involved.
One thing that surprised Kevin that night about the DSANWI was how many events they held. The DSANWI holds at least 2-3 events a week! When asked about the amount of events Christine explained how boredom is a big issue within the down syndrome community. Between the high unemployment rate, transportation challenges, and limited education opportunities beyond age 22, boredom can lead to depression, anxiety and serious health issues.
“Having just come through the pandemic, boredom was a feeling I had been dealing with personally. However, the flip side of the negative results was a boost in creativity for me” Kevin said.
Later that month, Kevin pitched the idea of collaborating with DSANWI on an art exhibit that would shed light on the issue of boredom. The idea was to have the event at the Friendship Center and anyone from the DSANWI who wanted to model, shoot photographs or paint a picture could do so. The Real Video Production crew simply provided direction and some of the tools to make it happen.
Along with that, Real Video thought it would be nice to feature what the DSANWI offers by highlighting one member of the community and how it has benefited him and his family. The hope is to create a series of these videos and title them Friendship Stories. Patrick was selected for the first of the Friendship Stories simply because he is the oldest member of the group and has been involved with the DSANWI for over 20 years!
The DSANWI loved the concept for both projects and planning and preparation began. Both projects took place in a single day. Interviews for Patrick's story took place in the morning along with a few b-roll shots. Then the Real Video crew reset for the photoshoot. We had the first wave of members come through for the photoshoot in the early afternoon and a second wave later in the day.
“The whole day was magic. Everyone had a great time. I would guess we had around 50 people involved in some capacity. The most challenging part was trying to get the models not to smile” Kevin said.
After the event, the team from Real Video edited the photos, scanned in all the paintings and composited 14 final images. These images were framed and hung at Real Videos Chicago studio in the Zhou B Art Center in the Bridgeport neighborhood.
“I couldn’t believe how many people came out to the show! We had so many great conversations around the topic of boredom and how it affects people" Kevin said.
Because of the success of the Chicago show, Real Video decided to transform their Crown Point studio into an art gallery for an evening and do the show again. With similar results, the show was deemed a success. After that the show moved to Faith Church in Dyer and then onto its final destination, the Crown Point Public Library.
“I can honestly say that in my 20 plus years of being a creative professional this project has been a highlight of my career. Not because of the art that was created but because of the friendships I have made, the deep conversations I have had, and the lessons that I’ve learned.” Kevin said.