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From the 7th Annual Shorty Impact Awards

Smithsonian Channel's Story of a Portrait

Finalist in Mental Health

Bronze Honor in Video Series


Story of A Portrait illuminates the importance of mental health through art and personal storytelling, because “Every life is worthy of art.” The fact that 1 in 5 Americans struggle with mental health issues, on a daily basis, speaks to the importance of authentic, first-person storytelling on these issues. When we can connect to others who also struggle with mental health, it makes a difference, and this series does just that.

Strategy and Execution

This life-affirming series highlights six people as they talk about their anything-but-ordinary lives–all while their portraits are being captured by a talented artist. From a travel nurse who turns to long-distance backpacking to refuel through purposeful movement, to a young man who models his life and livelihood around the pursuit of happiness, to a child of immigrants who found her purpose by advocating for mental health. It’s an intimate look at what grounds us, and why we are, in our own unique way, art. Audiences connect to a voice instead of an on screen figure, which forces them to remove biases and listen deeply. Through timelapse, portraits start to reveal the person behind the story. Viewers witness the detailed, creative process of the artist, with a reveal of the finished piece at the end. The style encourages people to watch through to hear how the subject’s journey ends. Each story is an emotional journey that aims to leave the viewer feeling connected, and part of one humanity.

The project came to life through the collaboration of participants of various backgrounds and portraiture artists with large social followings. Subjects were interviewed remotely and artists were sent a photo and the interview recording to help inspire each portrait. In several portraits, artists researched and used materials or added background elements that tied directly to an important part of the subject’s story (ie. using coffee as an art medium to pay homage to the region where the subject's family is from).

To keep subjects and crew safe during the pandemic, we set out to capture the art process remotely. Artists were sent camera gear, to set up themselves, in their studio spaces. The majority of the footage was captured on iPhones stationed over the art, and required added production support for close-up details. Crew was quickly dispatched to each artist’s location, and followed strict Covid guidelines to ensure the safety of everyone. Artists needed to adapt to having their work filmed in person, in real time, often extending into after hours to finish in time. In edit, each artists’ process needed to be timed to match the pacing just right to reveal the finished piece at the end for each individual storyteller. The finished portraits were delivered to the subjects, for them to keep, and their reactions were captured and posted as an accompanying video after their story was published. The entire process and sentiment of the crew and artists involved, evoked the true spirit of this series, that everyone deserves a custom portrait, and each life is worthy of art.


Story of a Portrait content combined for 3.9M cross-platform views and 36K cross-platform engagements. Instagram was the most engaged platform, contributing 71% of engagements and 42% of views.
Viewer comments have been positive and inspired, for example: “This is incredibly powerful, important and inspirational! 👏” and “This is the first Instagram reel that makes me cry! I felt that 100%!” and “Such a beautiful story told to beautiful art - thank you for this”


Video for Smithsonian Channel's Story of a Portrait

Entrant Company / Organization Name

MTV Entertainment Studios and Paramount Media Networks


Entry Credits