Blair Smith, DRIVE postdoctoral fellow in Art Education, University of Illinois, 2019. Photo by Julia Nucci Kelly.

As a Postdoctoral Research Associate with Krannert Art Museum and Art Education, I am excited about extending my dissertation research focused on Black girlhood, Black feminism, and art and music making that connects public engagement with museum and art education in new and innovative ways.

In particular, I look forward to merging my work with Art Education and KAM and with Saving Our Lives Hear Our Truths (SOLHOT), a collective founded in Champaign-Urbana that has operated at sites across the country. Central to this work is creating spaces for and with Black girls to celebrate Black girlhood.

With SOLHOT, the museum, and other local and regional community members and artists, I will be curating pop-up style open sound studios, exhibition/artist talks, and live performances, exploring Blackness and girlhood as vital to how we envision our worlds and make them anew. I also anticipate connecting through this work, locally and regionally, to young people, schools/educators, artists, curators, performers, and community members committed to transforming the relationship of the museum and the arts to communities and people.

Public engagement, organizing, and my DJ artist/scholar practice will play a huge role in my postdoctoral research and shaping connections between the museum, university, and community. The goal is to make space with and for Black girls and those who love them where they can make art and engage lived experience creatively, critically, face-to-face, heart-to-heart, and in celebration.

This type of engagement means coming to terms with women of color artists, scholars, and educators and Black girls who use the creative and the collective to make art. It contradicts established systems in the academy and museums, where they are rarely seen as producers of knowledge. Instead, it centers and celebrates their lives and stories within these institutions.

This postdoctoral work began in earnest during Black Girl Genius Week in October 2019. It was exciting and important to host and experience SOLHOT sessions with girls at Urbana Middle School and Franklin STEAM Academy. The collective’s work is made possible by the energy Black girls always bring and the level of engagement that invited artists, trained homegirls, and those who love them are required to bring and give in this program.

I envision future outreach connecting campus and community through the arts in ways that meet the growing needs, dreams, and desires of Black girls in Champaign-Urbana in as many ways as we can imagine. In the near term, SOLHOT will be organizing sessions for Black girlhood celebration with Urbana Middle School including critical media literacy, art making, performance, and engagement with museum curation and education.


Author: Blair Ebony Smith, DRIVE postdoctoral fellow in Art Education, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2019.