Fargo school turns 'Inside Out' as photography installation celebrating diversity goes up

Local photographer Dan Koeck partnered with Madison Elementary School to participate in the Inside Out project to celebrate the diversity within the school and in the surrounding area.

A man in a tan cap holds up a large, black and white photo of a softly smiling Asian boy. Behind him, photos of others are glued to a brick wall.
Dan Koeck readies a student portrait for placement on the exterior of Madison Elementary in north Fargo on Monday, May 15, 2023. Koeck took 129 portraits of staff and students at the school for the "Believe in Us! Inside Out at Madison Elementary" public art project that celebrates the cultural diversity in the Madison neighborhood.
David Samson / The Forum

FARGO — Students and staff at Madison Elementary School are hoping to spark conversation about cultural diversity and social cohesion in the area Fargo-Moorhead area by participating in the Inside Out Project.

Started by artist JR after he won the TED prize in 2011, the Inside Out Project is a "global art platform that helps communities around the world stand up for what they believe in and spark global change locally," according to information provided by the school.

Two men stretch a large black and white photo of a smiling girl across a brick wall, sticking the top corners in place.
Carlos Roybal and photographer Dan Koeck smooth out wrinkles as they apply a student portrait at Madison Elementary in north Fargo on Monday, May 15, 2023.
David Samson / The Forum

Madison Elementary partnered with local photographer Dan Koeck to create their own version of the project titled “Believe in Us! Inside Out at Madison Elementary.” The project consists of 129 large-scale student and staff portraits that are pasted to the outside walls of the school.

Koeck took black and white photos of students and staff standing, jumping and dancing, and the photos were pasted to the outside walls of the school Tuesday, May 16.

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“I would tell one child, 'Can you make a funny face?'" Koeck said. "There was one little girl, she told me she liked to dance, so I had her dance."


The photos are being displayed to promote, celebrate and raise awareness of the rich cultural diversity in the area, the school said.

A man sporting knee pads and black socks with his gray outfit unrolls a photo of a smiling black girl on the sidewalk. Another man, dressed in bright blue, bends down to help him. In the background, a third man applies glue to a brick wall with a paintbrush.
Photographer Dan Koeck and Kevin Jeffrey unroll photos for display as Carlos Roybal applies paste to the wall at Madison Elemtary on Monday, May 15, 2023.
David Samson / The Forum

Koeck has been volunteering with the school as a part of the Big Brothers Big Sisters program for over 15 years, so he was a friendly face for the students at Madison Elementary. His relationship with the school is what inspired him to do the project there, he said.

The project is funded by a public art grant Koeck received from the Fargo Arts and Culture Commission. It was approved by the school district, and the planning committee consisted of Koeck, Principal Lori Conmy, a team of Madison teachers and staff, and a student group called the Madison Equity and Leadership Council, according to the school.

Four adult women stand at the entrance to a brick building. Two hold doors open and one takes a photo of large photos pasted to the walls. Another stands just inside the school, looking out.
Staff members admire the portraits on the walls at Madison Elementary on Tuesday, May 16, 2023.
David Samson / The Forum

The project was something Madison Elementary was excited about, Koeck said, noting Conmy was quickly on board with his idea, and the students' classwork prepared them for the event.

Conversations were held surrounding topics of identity, culture and community in addition to students' photos being taken, the school said. Older students even helped install the photos.

The installation will remain in place until the end of the school year, weather permitting, the school said.

Students pause to look at large photos pasted to the outside walls of a brick building.
Students react to their images on the wall as they arrive for school at Madison Elementary on Tuesday, May 16, 2023.
David Samson / The Forum

Celebration event

A community celebration of “Believe in Us! Inside Out at Madison Elementary” will take place Thursday, May 18, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at Madison Elementary School, 1040 29th St. N., Fargo.


The portraits can also be viewed by searching "Fargo" on the Inside Out Project website,

Paige Naughton (she/her) joined The Forum in May of 2023 as a news and reporting intern. She is a current Concordia College student majoring in English with a concentration in Writing and Multimedia Journalism.
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