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A Black woman stands over a work table, applying a wooden block stamp to a large piece of white paper. Other block stamps are stacked at the edge of the table.

Cynthia Sands, an artisan who has participated in the Smithsonian Folklife Festival and the African American Craft Initiative, studies designs and symbols on textiles as visual portrayals of African expression.

Photo courtesy of the artist

  • Center Awarded American Women’s History Initiative Grant for African American Craft Documentation

    On January 31, the Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative awarded the new Community and Collaboration Fund grant to the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage.

    The fund is designed to invest in community-based and collaborative programming to change not only the proportion of women represented in American history but how women are represented, moving toward a more equitable and inclusive historical narrative which demonstrates that women’s achievements are fundamental to the American story. The fund is part of the broader Because of Her Story initiative at the Smithsonian, using a digital-first mission and focus to amplify the diversity of women’s voices throughout Smithsonian museums, research centers, and affiliates.

    The grant will fund Black &: African American Women Crafting Our Own Narratives, a documentation project that seeks to explore the complexity of identity narratives of African American women artists working in the craft mediums. Led by Dr. Diana Baird N’Diaye as part of the African American Craft Initiative (AACI), this project aims to fill a gap in documentation and understanding of African American women makers and the confluence of identity and craft in underrepresented communities.

    “Craft has often been a means of economic survival but also a source of healing, bonding, affirmation of identity, and an expression of joy for Black women in craft,” N’Diaye explains. “This project serves as a first step of a broader objective to map and understand underrepresented makers and craft communities across the country.”

    As such, the project will first focus on the Ozarks and Chesapeake Bay, two largely misunderstood and overlooked regions whose complex history is deeply engrained in the local culture and craft practices. Identified craft artists will become part of the AACI network, connected to other African American makers, craft organizations, and resources. The project team will produce a report on the findings from the research, adding to the growing body of work at the Center focused on craft. Additionally, the makers in the Ozarks region will have the opportunity to participate in the 2023 Smithsonian Folklife Festival’s Ozarks program.

    In applying an intersectional lens to American craft, Black & will help to promote equitable narratives, provide resource materials for future work, and expand craft community networks. Over the course of the next six months, the project team will implement a rigorous research and documentation process. The project is a collaboration between the Center’s African American Craft Initiative and the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.  

    About the African American Craft Initiative

    The African American Craft Initiative (AACI), launched in 2020 in response to the dual pandemics of COVID-19 and institutional racism, is 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 outlines concrete actions for sustainable change.

    Through collaborative research, documentation, and public programming, the initiative builds upon the relationship between craft and community by amplifying and supporting efforts of African American makers to sustain their craft practice. Further, AACI facilitates networking and outreach opportunities, advocates for equitable access to markets and resources, and improves the public’s understanding of the history, cultural background, and aesthetics of African American craft.

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