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African Americans have played an important role as makers since the dawn of the American experiment. As primary makers in all areas of craft during slavery, their skills and knowledge have contributed tremendously to building this nation, even while, for the most part, receiving no compensation. Since emancipation, in the nineteenth through the twenty-first centuries, African American artisans have continued to produce, often with scant recognition of their participation or equal access to the craft establishment in the United States.

The African American Craft Initiative (AACI), launched in 2020 in response to the dual pandemics of COVID-19 and institutional racism, was designed to expand the visibility of African American artisans and ensure equitable access to resources. Established through a consultative process of dialogue with African American makers and organizations, as well as the mainstream craft sector in the United States, AACI outlined concrete actions for sustainable change.

We collaborated with makers and organizations to encourage the vitality of African American craft, supporting efforts to document and present their work, strengthen networks, and increase access to opportunities and resources. Through collaborative research, documentation, and public programming, the initiative built upon the relationship between craft and community by amplifying and supporting efforts of African American makers to sustain their craft practice. AACI facilitated networking and outreach opportunities, advocated for equitable access to markets and resources, and improved the public’s understanding of the history, cultural background, and aesthetics of African American craft.

After four years supporting and engaging with craft artists across the country, AACI has ended at our Center, but the work continues as the African American Craft Alliance, supported by the Folk School Alliance.

The banner image is a piece by African American quilter Sylvia Stephens, inspired by traditional Ghanaian kente cloth and the tiered crown shape of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.


  • African American Craft Initiative - 2020 Program Description.

    Program background and objectives

  • African American Craft Summit, October 6-8, 2020. Summit Report - Fall 2020. Logo for the Smithsonian Center for Folklife & Cultural Heritage.

    Analysis and recommendations from dicussions with African American makers

  • African American Craft Initiative Think Tank, May 25-27, 2021. Think Tank Report - Summer 2021. Logo for the Smithsonian Center for Folklife & Cultural Heritage.

    Analysis and recommendations from dicussions with African American craft organizations

  • African American Craft Initiative Craft Institution Consortium, July 20-22, 2021. Craft Institution Consortium Report - Fall 2021. Logo for the Smithsonian Center for Folklife & Cultural Heritage.

    Analysis and recommendations from dicussions with mainstream craft sector

Past Events

  • Three Black female dolls each wearing an assortment of accessories.
    African American Craft Summit

    In October 2020, craft artists, scholars, organizers, and activists gathered virtually to discuss the state of African American craft, assessing the needs of the community and discussing practical next steps to sustain and amplify their work.

    Learn more
  • A woman reaches across a table while standing in a studio wearing a blue hat, an orange collared shirt, and a blue smock. Behind the woman are studio materials.
    African American Craft Organization Think Tank

    In May 2021, African American leaders from craft and activist collectives, businesses, and cultural centers examined the role Black craft organizations hold in their direct connections to the maker community and the issues they face.

    Learn more
  • A side-by-side photo of a young Black woman wearing a white nurse's uniform, with long sleeves and skirt and a red cross armlet, next to a drawing of a white female nurse wearing a nearly identical uniform.
    Craft Institution Consortium

    In July 2021, representatives from craft organizations and schools, state arts councils, and museums identified long-term goals, potential successes, and roadblocks for achieving more equitable representation for African American artists.

    Learn more

Related Programs


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