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Frequently Asked Questions with Diane Granito

Diane Granito is a Foster and Adoptive Parent Group Coordinator, New Mexico CYFD and founder of the Heart Gallery Project.

How did the Heart Gallery begin?

The idea for the Heart Gallery project started as a means to raise awareness about adoption and find homes for older children and sibling groups in protective custody with the New Mexico Children, Youth & Families Department (CYFD).

The project was implemented by CYFD recruiter Diane Granito when she was hired as a grassroots recruiter for Santa Fe and eight other New Mexico counties. She developed the idea from photographer (and adoptive mother) Cathy Maier to have talented photographers create inspiring portraits of older children and sibling groups who were waiting for adoption.

Since funds were limited, it was necessary to obtain donations of many of the necessary goods and services. As a first time project, organizing and implementing the exhibit was a hands-on learning experience. Diane's first step, after naming the project, was to approach the Gerald Peters Gallery, where Lisa Bronowicz gave Diane an enthusiastic "yes" to hosting the event. The energy and generosity of the community (photographers, framers, media, etc.) created an impetus which resulted in an opening in March 2001 with over 1,000 people attending.

Each year the exhibit as it travels to different venues continues to raise the awareness and interest in the children waiting for special needs adoption.

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How much has the project grown since its inception?

National coverage in print and broadcast media has resulted in gallery openings across the United States. Following coverage ranging from Parade Magazine to ABC's World News Tonight, from NPR's "All Things Considered" to articles in numerous local newspapers, more than 60 new planning groups were formed, including ten in California alone. A sampling of placements resulting from Heart Gallery exhibits include 29 in Oklahoma, 19 in Connecticut, and 20 in Florida. [View the News and Events page.]

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How do you choose which children to feature?

New Jersey included every child in the state who needs a home (over 300). This method certainly has the impact of numbers and multiple visuals, and can really draw in people.

New Mexico includes children for whom it is an appropriate project. This can be limited by logistics for example, if you have 3,000 adoption-available children, as some areas do, it would not be feasible to have them all included in the opening even if it was suitable to do so, however they could all be on a website.

There can be different levels of knowledge about The Heart Gallery for each child, but that only works if you are in control of the exposure of the portraits. For example, if a child from southern NM has mixed feelings about adoption, we might tell the child this is just going to be a photograph for us and we will get them a copy of it. The portrait can be featured at our Santa Fe opening and other areas where the child would most likely not see it. If the show opens later near the child we may pull it to avoid problems for the child. However if you are going to have widespread exposure, for example at a major mall, you must be certain that the child is prepared for seeing his or her portrait there.

Tampa Bay Heart Gallery is working on protocol for increased and improved preparation of the children for adoption, as their project is highly visible and has increased their adoption inquiries by at least 50%.

Much of this is up to the child's social worker, who also is responsible for the important task of preparing the child emotionally for adoption. Children are at different points on this path:

  • some have only recently been told they will never go home again,
  • others may have been waiting for a long time and be active in their own recruitment,
  • some have mixed feelings about adoption and need to be treated with even more sensitivity than normal.

Those who are actively involved in their own recruitment are invited to the pre-opening party where they have the chance to see their photographers again, and, most importantly, meet families who have already been approved to adopt.

This is largely a process of how well the social worker or case manager who works on behalf of each child communicates with the child and truly knows if a child is a good candidate for the Heart Gallery. In our community this is a totally voluntary process because not every child is a good fit for this process.

Screen the children and ensure they are emotionally in a good place to be a candidate. That said it is not possible to avoid all problems. We have had a teen whose picture appeared in a mall that had emotional problems when peers saw her picture. When we probed as to why this occurred, we found out that this young lady had reservations about participating but had been persuaded by her case manager and was not aware of the particulars of the project. We like to involve the children in writing their bio that goes with the picture and the audio message. Then they see this project as a celebration of what makes them special and an empowerment tool if used wisely by their care manager.

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Are children in volved in the portrait selection process?

Child helps select portraits

Minnesota Heart Gallery
This group actually asks the photographers to share images during the shoot if possible. Later, the child is given several shots to choose from and has the final say about which will be featured in their Heart Gallery. This is an incredibly sensitive way to give the children, who have so little control over their lives, some say in their adoption process.

Orange County
The Orange County has the children choose the final shot, but before this they have a photo editing committee which narrows it down to the best ones. This gives the child a say in the decision but also helps guarantee that the photographer's best work of the child will be included.

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Do you include children who were initially available but have since been matched?

A child's portrait remains on display until they are placed or their plan has changed. A happy ending is the adoptive family is given the portrait. Workers must confirm that all children are legally free for adoption, with no parental appeal time left.

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Do you periodically add or delete portraits?

A child's portrait remains on display until they are placed or their plan has changed. A happy ending is the adoptive family is given the portrait. Workers must confirm that all children are legally free for adoption, with no parental appeal time left.

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What are the children told about the project and how do you get them to be involved in a positive way?

A Heart Gallery presentation to the children can be adapted to fit what they are capable of understanding and handling. Some are very excited about being involved in their own recruitment efforts, others (younger or more sensitive ones) may just be told that we are taking a nice picture of them and that they will get a copy. Most of the children especially like attending the openings if special food or entertainment is available.

Ask the kids (and the foster parents) for photo shoot suggestions to give them "ownership" of the portrait and project. They are often very creative.

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Are the featured children from a geographically diverse representation of the state (are they all from the Santa Fe or from the whole state)?

Each state/city is different. Here in New Mexico we include kids from all over the state, a total of about 50 portraits, representing approximately 60 children because of sibling groups. New Mexico generally has a maximum of 200 children without a resource needing a home at any given time.

Boston had under 30 portraits in its 2005 exhibit, Tampa has 100 kids in their second exhibit (and added sound!). NJ will feature each of over 300 children in the state who are available for adoption. The opening will be at the Newark Museum, and the exhibit will tour the entire state.

Currently there are states that have different groups working on Heart Gallery exhibits in several cities or regions. We would advise each group to let their protective services or adoption coalition representatives know that others in the state are working on the project. The state may decide to have separate but simultaneous openings, but even if they don't, they will want to know what other areas are photographing the children so there is no overlap.

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Will the children's worker consider a family outside of the child's local area?

Most social workers are very happy to have a valid and viable family inquire about adopting a child on their caseload. The main duty of the child's adoption social worker is to follow up on prospective families. If someone sees a child in the show and "goes child-specific" here in NM for example, they are "fast-tracked" so their homestudy is done in 6 wks. We have had at least 18 kids adopted out of the Heart Gallery here and only a few families were already licensed.

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What are some of the recommended photographers' guidelines and protocol?

Avoid talking to the children about their situation; if they start to open up to you, support them but don't ask questions. A foster parent or social worker should always be present and should help the child set boundaries.

Make sure to capture the child's face (i.e. shots from behind can be touching but you can't recognize the child!)

  • Try to involve the children in the shoot as much as possible, asking for ideas, etc.
  • Try to give the foster parents "ownership" of the project by asking for suggestions (what does Billy like to do? Do you have any pets he is close to? And, if you are allowed to travel to nearby venues, are there any interesting places nearby where you can take us?)
  • Remember there should always be a foster parent or social worker with the photographer and child during the shoot.
  • Expect to be emotionally touched by the child; don't forget 3 photographers have actually adopted the child they photographed.
  • Others have applied to do foster care for the child.
  • If possible, stay in touch and/or send some small snapshots, etc from the shoot.
  • In regards to writing off expenses, remember that services cannot be written off, only goods.

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How do you publicize the event to the public?

Prior to the exhibit opening, articles and interviews are published/run in area papers, in local broadcast news and calendar announcements, in mailings to members of the venue holding the exhibit. The opening features speakers, foster and adoptive parents and their children.

A newspaper insert could go out to several thousand readers and could double as a program at the event. The brochure can contain information about the opening, adoption, and the children in the exhibit, as well as success stories about adoptions resulting from past Heart Galleries.

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How long does it take from selection of the children, photographs, and framing to the first show?

  • Schedule photo session no more than 4 or 5 months before the Gallery opening. The status of the children can change from assignment to opening day.
  • Allow time to schedule and possibly rescheduling photo shoots if weather or other factors interfere.
  • If you get funding and don't have to get everything donated the printing and the framing can be quick.
  • You need to allow time to get the prints made and for the framing.

Sample time line for a November 2005 opening):

May: Identify venue(s), book dates.
Approach sponsors for donations of money, frames, film, printing, etc.
Gather names of and commitments from donating photographers, determine who will travel if necessary.

June:Start media outreach.
Identify children needing homes, start making charts with their names and contact information, social worker information.

July:Assign children to photographers.
Call foster parents to tell them it is an agency project approved to help find homes for the children, and to expect a call from the photographer. (Photographers will set up the shoots themselves with the foster parents, sometimes they want to spend an entire morning or afternoon with the child. They are never left alone with the children though.)

August:Prints start coming in.
Frames are being made (we recommend choosing two sizes only, 22 x 28 and 16 x 20 for example, so photographers have some choice but there is consistency; some places use special mounting instead of frames.)
CYFD takes the prints in to the six or seven framers, discussing matting; or the photographers can do it. Photographers make the decision about which shot to use but CYFD has veto power.
Create/print invitations to opening, print ads, etc.
Identify entertainment and speakers.
Line up sound system, stage, etc.

September:More prints, framing completed.
Step up media outreach.
Send out invitations.
Donation of food for opening if necessary.

October:Final print, framing details.
PSA's, print ads, TV and radio appearances, pitching newspaper and magazine articles, etc.
Work with venue re: detail of opening, volunteers for food pick up etc.
Printing of inserts, programs
Confirm entertainment and speakers.

November:Same as October, but more intense plus...
Create name badges for children (no last names) and other attendees.
Confirm parking details.
Hang portraits or get easels to venue. BREATHE!

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Who pays for things like frames, film processing, food, space?

  • In New Mexico almost everything is donated. Our allocated Heart Gallery budget this year was $3,000 which we used for the program/newspaper insert.
  • The film, printing, frames, Plexiglas, food for the opening, graphic design and many other items were donated. Even Randy Travis donated his time again, and the broadcast media love the project.
  • Some states get grants or have money available for recruitment projects. Others get underwritten, like Connecticut where Northeastern Magazine donated the insert and publicity, and the American Pediatric Assoc covered expenses.
  • In NJ the Newark Daily Star is covered many expenses and they obtained grants.
  • One idea totry is to ask businesses or individuals to sponsor a child by paying the cost of a portrait. The portrait can then have a label which, in addition to giving the child's first name and last initial and the photographer's name, would say "Susie's portrait donated by....".

People planning Heart Galleries are often amazed by how quickly and enthusiastically others agreed to help.

If you have large companies or organizations you can approach them, otherwise you can divide up the work/donation load. Here we have five or six framers, lots of caterers who donate. Once on board they are almost always happy to help each year (Sept 2005 will be our fourth Heart Gallery.) If you hook up with a nonprofit (or your coalition is one) people can write off donation of goods. You can create joint letterhead using that of a state agency, if you work for or are working with one, and the nonprofit, and close by stating that donations of goods and funds (not services) can be written off to the nonprofit. Many states and cities have Court Appointed Special Advocates, nonprofit volunteer groups which act as the voice of the children in court, and they are usually happy to collaborate as the project directly affects the children they try to help. Some groups are setting up their own regional nonprofit Heart Gallery association, which is wonderful if you can do it. Keep in mind that in most states, if someone makes out a check to the state agency it will go into the general fund and you will not be able to use it for your project.

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What is the actual opening of the Heart Gallery like? Who attends, publicity, information provided, etc.?

This year we did something special which we will repeat: in the garden of the gallery we had a big party for the Heart Gallery kids, photographers, foster parents, special sponsors, and waiting licensed families. We had children and families "click" at the party! Then we opened to the public, let them peruse the portraits and sign up for more information and to be contacted if they wanted to. An hour or so later we started with speakers and then Randy Travis inspired everyone with his music. Kids read poems they wrote.

We specifically invite all the Heart Gallery children for whom it is appropriate (their workers know) and their foster parents, legislators, waiting adoptive families who are licensed and not matched, etc. The rest is done through media coverage, including print ads and articles, ALL of which have been positive.

You can get a lot for free, like going on local radio stations, calendars, etc. Our NBC affiliate, KOB-TV is especially supportive of the project and their morning anchor, Monica Armenta, promotes the upcoming openings with her co-host, Steve Stucker (an adoptive father). Monica also makes time to speak at the openings.

Get the media involved early (we had them sit in on our very first photographers' meeting and they did a big article four months out.) Give them a copy of the Parade article and any other press you have available. NJ and Washington state prepared a Powerpoint presentation to help recruit sponsors. You will find that one media story will lead to more. For example, Parade's recent article by Rosemary Zibart brought in inquiries from over 500 people who have been grouped together into planning committees all across the country. That lead to interest from 20/20. Among 60 other cities in 45 states, the Parade article caught the attention of photographer Najlah Feanny and other wonderful people in NJ, and thanks to their huge effort there, a story went out on March 11, 2005 on NPR's All Things Considered. In turn, this caught the attention of the New York Times, which is now doing a piece on the Heart Gallery (they had featured the CT show in a smaller piece some time ago.) The Christian Science Monitor's March 23, 2005 article, thanks to the Boston Heart Gallery, and the March 2005 People magazine article (NJ again) will bring more attention to this important issue and can be used by planners to bring sponsors on board.

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What time of year is best for the event?

In areas with cold winters, timing is important for two reasons: many of the photographers shoot outdoors and it is hard on the kids (and adults!) in winter. Also if you hold the event in the winter you can risk low turnout due to bad weather. A good time to start shooting might be April/May which would place the event in the early fall.

The gallery where we have the big Santa Fe opening has a nice garden with a waterfall, sculptures, etc so we had a great private party there with a magician and stilt walker, and wonderful food (all donated of course). The Heart Gallery kids here are from all over the state so many were hungry by the time they arrived. Having the great food there for them at 4pm worked well. The public came in at 5pm to see the portraits and hear speakers, Randy Travis, etc. Of course you could have the party indoors. We had a canopy one year in the garden and it was a good thing as it rained earlier.

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What type of places are used for venues?

In addition to allowing for space for people to circulate and see the portraits, it is nice to have space for a small stage (known as a "riser") so people can hear and see the speakers (the children especially.) A sound system is usually needed and easily set up (ours is donated.) We are fortunate enough to have a beautiful gallery (The Gerald Peters Gallery) in New Mexico, and a PR person there, Lisa Bronowicz, who is completely supportive of our project, as is the gallery owner, Gerald Peters (he has offered the use of his NYC and Dallas galleries to planners in those areas.)

Some of our most successful openings have been in smaller galleries around the state, in hotels (the Las Cruces Hilton), or even in library galleries. The "flavor" of the town will often dictate the venue...Santa Fe is very art-oriented for example. Obviously our Santa Fe "kick-off" opening is the biggest each year but the stops in smaller towns have resulted in some amazing adoptions, including that of a sibling group of five teens and pre-teens we were trying for years to place together!

Parking was an important consideration here as in many places. Canyon Rd., home to many galleries in Santa Fe, is narrow and has very limited parking. The Gerald Peters Gallery happens to be across the street from the state building where CYFD is based, thus we have a huge parking lot at our disposal. The gallery even provides guards and parking attendants.

Businesses are usually very happy to donate the space if they have an opening so you should not have to pay for it.

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How long do the portraits stay in each venue?

Again, this depends on your traveling schedule (we show the exhibit at least 4 to 5 times and in three years have covered every corner of the state.) If you need to move on to another opening, it can stay up just a week or two. (Our Santa Fe show usually remains up two weeks as space is at a premium in this town.) Rather than have the show in storage between shows, leave it up on the walls longer if possible.

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What are the pros and cons of forming your Heart Gallery as a non-profit?

If you are a group of volunteers, the decision to become a non-profit or not may depend on whether Heart Galleries are something your group (or other volunteers) will want to continue in the future. If not, or if your state/agency would like to assume responsibility for the volunteers in the future, doing the work of creating a non-profit corporation may not be worth the effort.


  • The amount of work required to set it up and keep a non-profit running.
  • Completing and filing the paperwork for incorporation and non-profit status.
    • This is best done with the help of a pro-bono attorney. The Heart Gallery is a wonderful cause and time spent in advance finding a pro bono attorney will be well worth the time and money saved in the long run. Forming a non-profit corporation also requires creating and keeping an active board – this is a big project in itself. I recommend keeping it as simple as possible, and tailoring it to the needs of your group.


The anticipated financial benefits and outreach possibilities of your project are also important considerations. For example, New Jersey's Heart Gallery website was donated by Sprint in the early stages of the project. Their proximity to NYC, a large concentration of corporations, and potential donors helped NJ decide there were advantages for them in setting up a non-profit corporation.


  • Heart Gallery's name recognition is increased when you form your own non-profit. Individuals and organizations are encouraged when they see that the name of the non-profit is the same as the project they want to support.
  • Ability to write off donations is very important to many donors. (Of course they can still do that if you decide to partner with another non-profit.)
  • Forming a new, independent, non-profit organization can give your group greater purchasing flexibility because you will not have to wait for the partnering non-profit to disperse funds. You may have more direct access to the donations and decision making can be quicker and easier. Of course partnering also means figuring out how donations are dispersed or what administrative fees may be required. However, if you are working with a child advocacy non-profit (like CASA, foster/adoptive parent organizations, etc.), the shared funds would go to benefit children like those The Heart Gallery supports.

Since I work for CYFD, New Mexico Heart Gallery has existed for many years without its own non-profit. Our current goal is to incorporate Heart Gallery New Mexico because we know we will continue our efforts into the future. New Mexico kids will certainly benefit from the already established name recognition of the Heart Gallery. We plan to expand our articles of incorporation to allow us to use the funds for other events and projects to benefit our foster children.

That said, for the December 2005 Heart Gallery in New Mexico, we are happily partnering with our CASA group even though our own non-profit should be up and running soon. The reasons are two-fold: first, it (CASA) is a wonderful, well-run organization which directly helps our New Mexico foster children; second, the CASA volunteers and staff will provide hands-on planning and support to the project this year.

Some groups start out without becoming a non-profit, and then as the project continues and grows, end up forming one. This is a good plan for those who don't have immediate access to a pro bono attorney or can't set up the corporation themselves. After a successful exhibit it is easier to recruit support for the project. If attorneys see that a Heart Gallery has helped to find homes for children in their community, they will be more inclined to donate their services.

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If you have further questions about starting a Heart Gallery email Christy Obie-Barrett at or one of the contacts listed from other states.

We have found this program beneficial in finding families for our children. We ask that as you view the children, consider that they live in our communities. Respect their right to privacy, and be aware that they may attend school or church, or play at the local park with your children and relatives. The availability of their pictures leaves our children recognizable and vulnerable to negative attention. Although we strive to protect them, we need your help. Thank you!

© 2018 Heart Gallery of America, Inc.