A Photographic Journey: Barbara Tyroler’s ArtsCenter Story

Golden Reflections: 50 Years of The ArtsCenter

Hello Folks,

I am a photographer, educator, community worker, and artist.

I was introduced to the ArtsCenter in my early twenties, circa mid 1970’s. I had been using the camera and the darkroom as an undergrad, then in grad school when I began working in the darkroom, printing self-portraits of children diagnosed with Autism during the early years of diagnostic evaluation and intervention. After grad school, serving as an educational therapist for psychiatric hospitals and residential treatment centers using photography and creative dramatics in affective education, I left the field to become a full time photographer and educator. I continue to teach and produce grant funded projects that use the lens to explore meaning and create work that promotes community engagement.

My early memories of the ArtsCenter under the leadership of Jacques Menache were creating the darkroom co-op with a group of fantastic educators and photographers. Together we developed a wonderful program that enabled photo folks in the community to have a resource and support system. As an early faculty member on staff, we collaborated to provide photographic coverage for the mime troupe and document musical and theatrical events. It was a wonderful beginning for me as a young photographer. My brother and husband threw a surprise party for my 30th birthday with much dancing and laughter.

When we moved to Maryland, I created a similar program at the University of Maryland, creating the University of Maryland Photo Outreach program, a grant funded project that enabled the university students, staff, and faculty opportunities to use the camera to document DC congress, provide exhibitions with hospitals and public schools, work with diversity projects such as Teen Pregnancy Support, African Drummers and Dancers, Camp Attaway for children with behavioral challenges, Faces of India, and others throughout the years. I later became a UM faculty member teaching in the art department where I developed the first digital imaging program and developed a robust darkroom on campus. My classes always filled with waiting lists.

When I returned to Chapel Hill, the ArtsCenter was in transition and the photo program had shrunk. After Covid, when the ArtsCenter entered its new building, I decided it was time for me to come back to my roots and begin to rebuild the interest in photography. There is limited availability to the community outside of the university here in Chapel Hill for students to pursue photographic studies. The new ArtsCenter has an exciting new media lab and young staff to support the programs. Wendy Smith as the new leader is one of the most enthusiastic directors I have seen since I left the DC community, wide open to grow and nurturing young and old who wish to pursue the creative arts. As well, all of the staff I have encountered are super friendly and helpful, open to new ideas, and supportive to the development of collaborative programming.

– Barbara Tyroler

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