Minnesota Museum of American Art curator Christina Chang pictured. Photo by Chris LaFontaine.

Launched in 2011, "Inside Out" is an international participatory art event that aspires to change people's lives. In the past four years, that ambitious goal has inspired some 200,000 people from more than 100 countries to slap big black-and-white portrait head photos onto public walls from Paris to St. Paul.

The 180 photos of artists now on view throughout St. Paul's Lowertown celebrate the area's creative types, many of whom live and work in the neighborhood's warehouses and lofts. For "Inside Out," they nominated each other, so expect to see familiar faces on and off the streets. They're likely to appear also at the official public launch party hosted by Black Dog Wine and Coffee Bar, 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday (May 28), 308 E. Prince St., 651-288-9274. 

While the Lowertown photos tout the neighborhood's identity as an artists' enclave, other "Inside Out" projects have pictured everything from mentally ill Slovakians to "disappeared" Mexican students. In Paris, the people pictured were demonstrating solidarity with the 17 journalists, police and hostages killed in January during a terrorist attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo

"Inside Out" was started by an anonymous activist and filmmaker who goes by the moniker JR who, in 2011, won a $1 million TED prize. In his TED-talk, he suggested that people need to reframe a common question. Frequently people wonder whether art can change the world. Instead, he suggested, "Maybe we should change the question. Can art change people's lives?"

With his $1 million award, JR launched "Inside Out," an invitation for people everywhere to share their portraits and state what they stand for. Typically the portraits are big heads about 53 in. tall by 36 in. wide. Plastered on brick walls, viaducts, in alleys, auditoriums, entrances and elsewhere, they have called attention to issues as diverse as rapes on college campuses and the vibrant art scene in Lawrence, Kansas.

JR's 2013 film "Inside Out: The People's Art Project," premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. So far, the jury is still out on his big question: Can art change people's lives?