[Visionaries in Craft] African American Craft Initiative

[Visionaries in Craft] African American Craft Initiative

Diana Baird N'Diaye | Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
Published on Thursday, July 7, 2022. This article appears in the Summer 2022 issue of American Craft Magazine.
artist holding up and pointing at a round painting with embroidered design in classroom setting

Artist Chanel Thervil teaches teen interns as part of her artist residency at the Eliot School of Fine & Applied Arts. Photo by Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo.

“As a senior curator, folklorist, and textile artist,” says Diana Baird N’Diaye, PhD, lead curator and developer of the AACI, “I noticed that throughout the craft sector African Americans were grossly underrepresented and underdocumented. With few exceptions we were disconnected from the national and regional studio arts organizations—and each other.”

So during the depths of COVID in 2020, N’Diaye took the lead in developing the AACI. The initiative grew out of Crafts of African Fashion, which spotlighted African artisans creating textiles, jewelry, and leatherwork for fashion designers, and from the Will to Adorn, a project focused on African American style in all its diversity. It was launched at a three-day virtual Makers Summit in October 2020.

puppeteer manipulating puppet on stage
portrait of Diana Baird N’Diaye

LEFT: Puppeteer Schroeder Cherry performs with one of his handcrafted puppets. Photo by David Moss. RIGHT: Portrait of Diana Baird N'Diaye. Photo courtesy of Diana Baird N'Diaye.

AACI “serves the underserved body of African American makers and maker organizations,” says N’Diaye. “We strive to promote exchanges between Black makers and within the field as a whole”—this by way of public programming, research, documentation, networking, and outreach, including online story circles discussing craft-related issues, and promoting fair access to markets and resources. A growing database of artists, such as puppeteer Schroeder Cherry, will eventually become a directory. Another goal is to improve the public’s understanding of the history, cultural background, and aesthetics of African American craft.

The point, says N’Diaye, is “to develop a clearer understanding of the needs of African American makers and identify next steps for how to best support this craft community.”

folklife.si.edu/african-american-craft

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