You may have noticed the Blatchley Middle School edifice undergo a big change in the last 24 hours. The building is covered with laughing faces, 80 student portraits looking toward Halibut Point Road.  But you may want to catch a glimpse of the art installation now. As KCAW’s Katherine Rose reports, it may not be there for long.

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Blatchley Middle School student Darren Mitchell thought his picture would be going in the yearbook.

“I was just walking out to lunch, just walking by and Mrs. Sagel was like Darren, come here. You’re taking a picture!’ Mitchell says. “And I was like, alright. And the girl who was taking the picture was like, just make a weird face. And I was like, alright, whatever. So I made a weird face.”

Instead, Mitchell’s face, along with 80 of his classmates, is plastered on the side of his school as a part of The Inside Out Project, a national non-profit run by the artist JR that installs large, printed portraits.

Darren Mitchell points to his portrait, part of the Inside Out Project. (Photo/KCAW/Katherine Rose)

Middle school librarian Kari Sagel was approached by the non-profit last year. “They haven’t been prevalent in schools, and I believe this will be the first installation in Alaska,” Sagel says.  “So they were eager to make a connection with a school in Alaska.”

So Sagel’s yearbook class got to work.

“We practiced techniques. We looked at graffiti art outside. We worked on the message,” Sagel says.

Beatrice Perez Peterson stands beneath her portrait. (Photo/KCAW/Katherine Rose)

“Inside Out Project” installations are usually action-oriented, and sometimes political, so the student body voted on a message they wished to convey with the project. They chose “Real, not perfect.” Several student photographers, including 8th grader Geraldo, set up shop in the Blatchley common area to capture their classmates best selves during their lunch break.

“It’s for students to express their true nature and all that jazz,” Geraldo says. “You heard it before, no one’s perfect. It’s better to be real then fake.”

8th grade student Geraldo stands beneath his portrait. Geraldo was a photographer for the project. (Photo/KCAW/Katherine Rose)

After the photos were collected, Sagel called parents to get permission. Then sent the photos to the printers.

“We sent em off knowing there wasn’t a lot of time,” Sagel says. “I think they’re either very efficient or they were so happy that this was progressing, because within two hours of me sending them they had them printed and on the way here. At no cost to us.”

Principal Ben White and a team spent about 7 hours plastering the photos on the side of the building with water soluble wheat paste. That means when it rains, the photos could melt away. Sagel knows that. It’s part of the art.

“The installation is part of the art as well as what happens after the installation,” Sagel says. “In some places being political, posters get torn down or graffiti-d. We imagine when we get a good windy rain, the posters will start to come down.”

But for now, the students faces are there, crossing their eyes, throwing up peace signs, smiling or serious, thoroughly real.

Jason Young recreates the expression in his portrait (Photo/KCAW/Katherine Rose)