Discover the Maury County Community Through Portrait Park

sarah b gilliam portrait park

When Sarah B. Gilliam set out to introduce the people of Maury County through individual portraits that she would take herself; she never imagined how much the project would have such a personal impact. She tells the story of Maury County through individual portraits of community members who volunteer for their photo to be taken. These portraits have been put on display and moved around from public park to public park in an effort to give everyone a chance to familiarize themselves with what are the “faces of Maury County”.

Sarah was born and raised in Maury County. She was once a photojournalist but has been a freelance photographer for the past 13 years. The Portrait Park project brought together two of Sarah’s most treasured things: her passion for photography and her love of her community.

I had the chance to discuss Portrait Park with Sarah and I walked away feeling inspired and connected with Sarah. Spend 20 seconds with her and you too will discover the energy and enthusiasm she has for our beautiful county.

What inspired you to create Portrait Park?

Sarah: I wanted to make an effort to understand and feel more connected to my community. ‘Who are we?’, ‘Who lives here?’, ‘How did we get here’? I wanted to tell the story of those from here and not from here alike because all of our backgrounds and walks of life define this community. Community is important to me and I want to explore it through discovering the people.

How did you pick the individuals who participated in this project? 

Sarah: We put the word out and people came. There is no rhyme or reason to choosing the people whose portraits are taken. If you want your portrait to be a part of this project then I will take your photo. We want Maury County to be represented authentically and equally so everyone is invited to be a part of this. The first night I did portraits, 170 people showed up! Since then, I have photographed more than 400 people.

What is the overall goal of Portrait Park?

Sarah: To create an accurate depiction of the diversity in our community. I want the photos to tell our story.

What will happen with all of the portraits once this exhibit is no longer on display?

Sarah: Each and every photo will be donated to the Maury County Archives whose mission is to “collect, conserve and make available to the public the important collection of Maury County’s original documents”. In 100 years from now, the people of the future Maury County will be able to look back and discover who our small business owners were, our community leaders, our school children and the people we run into every day while running our daily errands.

Where can someone go to experience Portrait Park?

Sarah: It was previously exhibited at Row & Co, Maury County Park and then Yanali Park. Portrait Park is currently on display at Fairview Park (871 Iron Bridge Road Columbia, Tennessee) and we have recently added some new portraits. We will eventually move it again as we are trying to bring it to all Maury County residents to discover. When we confirm those details we will announce the new location and official opening date.

Is it too late to be a part of this project?

Sarah: No! I am still currently accepting new people who want to have their photograph taken and displayed. If someone is interested in having their portrait taken they can contact me through my Facebook or Instagram accounts. You can find me under Sarah B. Gilliam.

What is something you want those reading this to walk away with?

Sarah: Portrait Park truly is a community effort. In the beginning, the City helped me write my application for an “Arts Build Communities” grant through the state of Tennessee. This grant is what helped fund Portrait Park to make it possible. Since then, the community has helped continue to fund this project both financially and through volunteering to have their portrait taken. Afterall, we wouldn’t have this collective picture of our community without community effort.

Each portrait display costs Sarah approximately $450. This includes general expenses, the print itself, the frame (which are created by Columbia Neon Co.) and insurance for each portrait. She currently has a backlog of portraits to produce and expand the project but is in need of funding to do so. If you would like to donate to Portrait Park visit Sarah’s Portrait Park GoFundMe to help her meet her financial goals.

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