ANNAPOLIS- The photographs all tell stories.
A pair of brothers grin at the camera, identically dressed and coifed, their hands in their pockets. Two boys stand in front of an old house, their arms folded. One has his foot atop a basketball. A teenage girl holds her cat, her face scrunched up in seeming embarrassment. Another young girl, in jeans and T-shirt, sits outside straddling a lawn chair as clouds pass by behind her.
The photo subjects are all foster children eligible for adoption. Their images are on display as part of the Maryland Heart Gallery, a touring photo exhibit shot by professional photographers in hopes of making Marylanders aware that there are kids out there looking for a place to permanently call home.
At a Valentine’s-Day-themed rally at the Maryland State House Tuesday, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. predicted that the gallery would be a success in leading more people to consider becoming foster parents or adopting children.
“There are a lot of people out there who have the means, the desire to do this,” he said, surrounded by a selection gallery photos and bunches of red, heart-shaped balloons. “They just haven’t thought about it yet.”
Maryland’s Heart Gallery got its start when Jennifer Bishop, a Baltimore photographer, contacted the creators of New Mexico’s Heart Gallery, the first of its kind and a catalyst for similar galleries in states such as New Jersey, Washington state, Michigan and Maine.
Bishop was told that there was no heart gallery in the region, and thought it was a good idea to start one of her own.
“My goal in this all along was to have photographers unite in something meaningful,” Bishop said.
She said professional photographers were eager to be a part of the project.
“They were dying to. It was amazing,” Bishop said. “We actually had more photographers than we could use.”
Photographers for the Maryland Heart Gallery volunteered their time and took on all the financial burdens themselves, though the Maryland Department of Human Resources, Court Appointed Special Advocates of Baltimore, Inc., the Baltimore Department of Social Services and volunteer groups have also helped get the gallery off the ground.
“There were a lot of like-minded people who came together,” Bishop said.
The nearly 50 photos that make up the Heart Gallery are currently on display at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County until mid-March. Earlier they had been on display at Villa Julie College in Stevenson for three months. The Department of Human Resources hopes to get the photos back to the State House by April.
Ehrlich said that part of the reasoning behind bringing the photos to the State House was to get state legislators to support his budgetary allotments for foster care.
“This is a sophisticated marketing effort,” he said.
Department of Human Resources Secretary Christopher J. McCabe, who also spoke at the rally, said that the gallery should help in the search for people “who are willing to open up their hearts and their homes to children who need care,” but acknowledged that there will likely still be difficulties.
“Adoptions are a good-news story, but it also takes a long time to get there,” he said.
John Bertulis community organizer for foster care and adoptions for the Frederick County Department of Social Services, said in an interview that his department has seen increased interest in adoptions. He said that even though several inquiries have fallen through, the Heart Gallery has provided some hope. “It puts the idea of adoption in people’s minds,” he said.