The Memory Project was founded by Ben Schumaker in 2004 while he was studying psychology and social work at the University of Wisconsin. Ben had just recently spent a month volunteering with disadvantaged children in Guatemala, and had learned that they had few special belongings to help capture their life stories.
As Ben had always enjoyed creating portraits for others, he had the idea to organize art teachers and their students to create portraits that could serve as positive and tangible “memories” for the children to carry into their future.
The Memory Project was therefore born as a way to provide these special gifts to the children, while at the same time providing art students with a unique method of practicing kindness towards others.
We are very dedicated to protecting the privacy of the children and teens who receive portraits through this program. Specifically, we do not share any information regarding the children’s identities or locations with any person who is not a Memory Project staff member. The only identifying information we can share with our participants is the first name, age, country, and favorite color of each child.
Furthermore, to help limit the posting of children’s photos on the internet, the Memory Project does not have an official page on any social media site.
We can send you photos very quickly. We can send the digital copies instantaneously, and the printed copies will reach you in the mail several days later. We will include an invoice for the participation fees so you can submit them whenever it is convenient for you – even later when you send us the finished portraits.
We will send you full-page prints as well as digital copies of the children’s photos. We will also mail you plastic sleeves that measure 9.25 x 12.25” for protecting the finished portraits. Each plastic sleeve will contain a white sheet of paper displaying a 4×6” photo of the child who will receive the portrait, and also a space for each art student to attach a personal photo (the kids always love to see who created their portraits).
We rely on the charities caring for the children to take their photos and then send them to us. Some of our partner charities send us very nice photos, while others send photos that are rather mediocre in quality. However, we tend to accept all photos, simply because we don’t want to leave any children out, and we enhance all photos in Photoshop before sending them to participants.
No matter how much time you would like to have, we can likely match you with kids based on your desired time frame.
Each year we deliver portraits to children in 4-6 different countries, usually delivering to a different country every 1-2 months between January and July. We usually send two staff members to each country with the portraits wrapped up in special transport bags. The two staff members then travel around each country delivering the portraits to children at numerous locations.
We began in 2004 by having one portrait made for each child, and it was immediately clear that there was a large variety in the quality of the portraits. Some looked as though they’d been done by professionals, others by beginners, and a number were not even finished. Needless to say, this approach was not very fair for the children.
Therefore, our best practice is to have several different photos taken of each child in different poses. We then give each of these photos to a different art student, resulting in several unique portraits for each child. We also give the children full-page prints of these photos, resulting in an intimate collection for each child.
Thinking over the long-term, we want these gifts to serve as mementos of family legacy for the children. That is, decades in the future, they will be able to pass their portraits on to their children and grandchildren.
The children’s immediate reactions to the portraits tend to vary by age. Young children are most noticeably thrilled to receive them. They hold their portraits proudly and show them to everyone around.
Teenagers usually prefer to receive their portraits privately in a place where their peers are not crowded around to see. They often hang their portraits in their lockers and share them with close friends.
As participants contribute participation fees along with the portraits, we use a portion of the fees to make financial donations to the charities caring for the children. In total we donate approximately $15,000 per year.
Sometimes warm-hearted art students and teachers ask if they can send donated items along with the portraits, such as care packages, clothing, or other gifts. This is a truly wonderful idea and we are always touched when people ask. However, since we transport the portraits as checked baggage on airplanes, we usually have very little space to accommodate anything more. There is also the question of fairness, since it is difficult to give gifts to some children at a particular location but not to others.