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See the diverse faces of South Brooklyn, memorialized in a new art exhibition

NYC artist paints 200 portraits of Brooklyn residents
NYC artist paints 200 portraits of Brooklyn residents 02:53

NEW YORK - Two hundred portraits of Brooklyn residents now hang in a gallery in Industry City. If you look closely, you might just spot someone you know. 

"Oh, he lives in my neighborhood," says Dina Rabiner, Vice President for Economic Development and Strategic Partnerships at the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. 

Rabiner's portrait, number 195, is part of the new exhibition called "We Are South Brooklyn," exhibited by The Free Portrait Project.

"It's a snapshot in time and it really is capturing the wealth of South Brooklyn, all the different people and types and backgrounds and histories," Rabiner says.

Jonathan Aguilar, a Sunset Park native, says he wanted to be part of the project as soon as he heard about it. 

"I never thought I would ever have a portrait of myself in an art exhibit, and that's why I jumped on the opportunity, even though it's not something I would normally do," he explains. 

The artist behind the brush, Kensington resident Rusty Zimmerman, created The Free Portrait Project in 2015 as a way to improve his craft and bring neighbors together. 

"It's also an effort to give something to people, whether they can afford an oil painted portrait from life or not, regardless of stature or notability, to give something that was historically just reserved for fancy people to everyone," Zimmerman tells CBS 2's Hannah Kliger. 

During portrait sittings, he also recorded people's life stories, interviews that are now part of an oral history accompanying each painting. 

The project culminates in a parade on Saturday through Sunset Park, similar to one Zimmerman organized for a project like this in Crown Heights in 2016. All 200 people, accompanied by a marching band, will walk through the streets to the new gallery. Their faces hang side by side, but now they're finally meeting in person. 

"I oftentimes tell everyone that this entire project is just an elaborate ruse to trick people into saying hello to one another. And I'm certainly a lot richer for having met these 200 neighbors of mine," Zimmerman says. 

Saturday will also be the official opening of the exhibition, which is free to the public and will run until March 25th. After that, the participants will be able to take their portraits home, and the oral histories will be donated to the Brooklyn Public Library's Center for Brooklyn History.

"We all get our portrait so maybe it'll be passed down. So my, you know, grandkids or great grandkids, will say, 'oh this is what my family looked like,'" Rabiner says with a laugh. 

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