Special Olympics New York
A student project covering three winter games
Every February between 2018 and 2020, Rochester, N.Y., welcomed more than a thousand athletes, coaches, and family members from across the state for the Winter Games. And each year, my colleague Josh Meltzer and I assembled a team of volunteer students and faculty to document the two-day event, while working closely with organizers from Special Olympics New York.
Our primary goal was to improve coverage of a population that is severely underrepresented by mainstream media and, in doing so, we hoped to raise expectations for quality storytelling of this diverse community while also reducing stigmas and promoting inclusivity in sport. By involving students, we were able to expand the amount and quality of photographic coverage for Special Olympics New York while giving students hands-on learning opportunities within a professional workflow and exposing them to valuable engagement with people who have intellectual differences.
Each year, planning began six months before the games and included coordinating logistics and workflow, and organizing partnering entities, including other faculty volunteers, alumni mentors, and camera companies who donated additional gear.
More than 70 RIT students and seven faculty participated in the coverage of the games. In 2019, we brought in three alumni mentors and in 2020, eight returned to Rochester to work with current students as they gained hands-on experience working as photographers, photo editors, social media editors, writers, and web producers spread out over the four competition and ceremony venues throughout the weekend.
During the games, students produced coverage of athletes, competitions, and other events surrounding the Winter Games. Students and faculty from the advertising photography program made studio and on-location portraits of athletes, coaches, and families, and gave free prints to those in the photographs. The team produced a website, managed SONY social media channels throughout the games, and made large prints from the competition, opening and closing ceremonies, and portraits. The prints hung on display during the games and were given out for free to participants in the Games at the end of the closing ceremonies. Following the games, we delivered an archive of whole takes with tens of thousands of photographs, which included a curated folder of toned, sized, and captioned files for future promotion and storytelling. Finally, students produced a series of more in-depth storytelling videos capturing the breadth of athlete stories about independence and inclusion within and beyond the sport.
Engaging in scholarship that also benefits student development has been a real joy and we have valued the opportunity to lend our skills to an organization that promotes inclusivity and combats stigma. In addition to our desire to continue working with Special Olympics New York, we have also identified ways to apply what we have developed and learned towards future initiatives.
In May 2020, we were awarded the Gitner Family Prize, recognized in the areas of Artistic Achievement and Pro bono contribution of outstanding professional work for a community organization with the Special Olympics of New York State.
Project Co Directors - Josh Meltzer
Faculty Advisors - Meredith Davenport
Alumni Mentors - Anthony Avellano
Kelly Jo Smart
Students working behind the scenes.(Produced by Emily Hunt and Boris Shirman)
From left, Josh Meltzer, Ashley Crichton and Jackie Diller in the WXXI studios before a panel discussion about the Special Olympics New York. (Photograph by Jenn Poggi