The following is a post by Erika Gault, a Program Specialist working on the Connecting Communities Digital Initiative (CCDI) at the Library.
On April 26, inaugural recipients Bree’ya Brown and her team began their Higher Education project through the Connecting Communities Digital Initiatives (CCDI) Grant program. Bree’ya is the University Archivist at Huston-Tillotson University (HT). HT is a private, non-profit 4-year historically Black university located in Austin, Texas. The institution is receiving $59,575.67 for their project titled “Harlem Renaissance Meets Huston-Tillotson University.” As part of the project, students will study Harlem Renaissance-era photographs from the Library and the university’s own archives, the Downs-Jones Library Archives and Special Collections, and will develop creative works that reimagine Austin’s place and relationship to Harlem.
Bree’ya offers thoughts on her experience so far through her responses to the questions below.
Can you talk a little about the impetus for the project?
Bree’ya: There are a few reasons behind the impetus for “Harlem Renaissance meets Huston-Tillotson University.” While the artistic movement began in Harlem, New York, it also occurred during a time when the Black diaspora migrated from southern states to different places in the United States. It was pertinent that this project highlighted a connection between Austin’s past and contemporary events and the Harlem Renaissance.
In historical context, the city of Austin experienced segregation most blatantly through the 1928 Master Plan, which legally relocated all Black residents beyond Austin’s East Avenue. Today, East Avenue has become Interstate Highway 35, which visibly and physically divides the city. A modern-day legacy of this 1928 Master Plan is acute gentrification, which contributes to the rapid displacement of generations of Black Austinites. While it is important to remember these unfortunate events, it is equally important, if not greater, to emphasize the ways Black communities in Austin survived and established their own movie theatres, businesses, homes, schools, streets, and various social events and celebrations.
Like the Harlem Renaissance, Tillotson College and Samuel Huston College were meccas of cultural expression of Austin’s history. Today, Huston-Tillotson University’s students and faculty carry this legacy. We, the library staff, hope students understand that they play an integral role in the growth of the Huston-Tillotson University community and Austin.
The Downs-Jones Library staff created an Artist-in-Residence program to reflect self-empowerment and creation of the past to the present. The initiative to launch an Artist-in-Residence program was conceived from the idea that students could find their voice by applying their creative skills and uplift an artist or scholar from the Harlem Renaissance era. Students are invited to re-adapt one or two materials from the Library of Congress that were produced during the Harlem Renaissance. They also have the option to interweave archival materials from the Downs-Jones Library Archives and Special Collections into their work. Students have the freedom to choose their own art form to complete the task. This approach should allow students to think critically about the timeframe, the environment, and the reasons why the artist produced the material. Most importantly, our hope for each Artist-in-Residence is for them to connect with the chosen material and its creator and transform it into meaningful art that tells their own story. The library staff will support students to create a narrative around their projects and will display their final project in a physical exhibition made available at the Downs-Jones Library and a digital exhibition made accessible to the public.
What are some of the potential benefits and/or advice you would offer potential grantees for the upcoming grant cycle?
Bree’ya: I would advise other candidates to plan accordingly for the grant with your team regardless of the outcome. Be mentally prepared for additional meetings, presentations, paperwork, and communicating with CCDI and other departments or area of work at your institution (Office of Sponsored programs, business administration department, Human Resources, etc.). Be open to developing professional relationships with people outside of your department/institution, CCDI members, grantees, and fellows with whom you will meet with occasionally or, quite possibly, regularly. Ask questions if you are unsure about paperwork or next steps in the grant process. And lastly, do remember to take time to celebrate your award whether it be on your own, with your family, friends, and/or with your colleagues.
What excites you the most about the work you’ll undertake with this grant?
Bree’ya: The experience of working with my colleagues has been rewarding. While our library team is small, everyone has a specific skill set that contributes to their role on the project. I am looking forward to learning and observing the process of creation as students pursue different projects and determine ways my colleagues and I can best support the Artists-in-Residence.
Any successes or milestones of the project so far that you’d like to share?
Bree’ya: As of June 2022, we are accepting applications for the Artist-in-Residence program. Currently, I am collaborating with faculty to build strategies that will encourage students to take an interest and apply for the opportunity. Katrina Ashton [Technical Services and Systems Librarian] has purchased and set up equipment for future student use. We are excited to welcome students to the program beginning in the Fall of 2022.
Round 2 Higher Education Grants Are Open!
CCDI recently announced Round 2 grants for Higher Education institutions and Libraries, Archives, Museums on June 7, 2022. The Library intends to award up to three Libraries, Archives, Museums grants and up to three Higher Education grants. We will award up to $50,000 for each grant and will support projects of up to 12 months in length.
Applications are due by 12pm (noon) Eastern Standard Time on September 30, 2022.