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Amiri Geuka Farris lands artist residency

Sharing photography and painting at Penn Center

Culture and Community at the Penn Center National Historic Landmark District, a partnership between South Carolina’s Penn Center and the University of Georgia’s Willson Center for Humanities and Arts, has named Amiri Geuka Farris as its 2023 artist in residence.

Through the residency and its theme of “Land and Justice,” Farris will engage with the history and heritage of Penn Center, located on St. Helena Island, and with its surrounding community in the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor. Farris is a Bluffton-based interdisciplinary artist whose work has been featured in more than 50 solo exhibitions and juried museum shows nationally and internationally. “For my Culture & Community residency I plan on creating a body of work focused on Gullah Geechee culture, land conservation, nature, and heirs’ property, which I plan to explore through various media including photography and painting,” he said. “By examining these themes, I hope to create meaningful works that can be shared with the community and exhibited in museums and galleries.” Farris was appointed to the residency by a committee including members of cultural and artistic organizations connected to Penn Center and led by Deloris Pringle, chair of Penn Center’s board of trustees. “Amiri Geuka Farris’s experience as a preservationist, educator, musical performer, videographer, and cultural curator places his bold and brilliant art at the intersection of people, place, and time,” said Penn board member Tia Powell Harris, vice president for education and community engagement at New York City Center, who served on the selection committee. “His art is often rooted in the legacy of the Gullah Geechee heritage and his desire to uplift the tenacity of the Gullah people,” Harris said. “We look forward with great anticipation to Amiri’s residency at the historic Penn Center and to the dynamic visual stories that will emerge from his interactions with our supportive staff and board, a welcoming community, and the indomitable spirit of the elders past and present, who have served as stewards of the land.” The Culture and Community project is funded by a $1 million 2021 grant to the Willson Center by the Mellon Foundation. Barbara McCaskill, professor of English and associate academic director of the Willson Center, and Nicholas Allen, Baldwin Professor in Humanities and director of the Willson Center, are the grant’s principal investigators and serve on the project’s steering committee with Pringle, Valerie Babb, Andrew Mellon Professor of Humanities at Emory University, and interim Penn Center executive director Bernie Wright. Angela Dore, the project’s research coordinator, provides day-to-day oversight of the project’s programs. The beginning of Farris’s residency launches the partnership’s second year of public programs, which will include two Penn Center Community Conversations and two cohorts of Student Summer Research Residencies: on-site classes and workshops with students and faculty from colleges and universities across the Southeast. The first of 2023’s public conversations, “Penn Center, Land, and Community,” will be held at 3 p.m. Saturday, April 22 in Penn Center’s Frissell Community House. The research residencies, which will take place in May, will include workshops and conversations that Farris will lead with students and other participants.

About the partners

  • Penn Center is a nonprofit organization committed to African American education, community development, and social justice. It also serves as a gathering place for meetings, educational institutions, and planning activities within the Sea Island Gullah Geechee communities. It sits on the historic campus of Penn School, founded in 1862 to provide education to African Americans who until then had been enslaved in the Sea Islands region. Following the school’s closure in 1948, the site served as a sanctuary for civil rights organizers in the 1960s, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
  • The Willson Center promotes research, practice, and creativity in the humanities and arts. It supports faculty, students, and its extended community through research grants, visiting scholars and artists, collaborative instruction, conferences, exhibitions, and performances, with a focus on academic excellence and public impact.

Submitted material

South Carolinian to lead Gullah Geechee commission

Victoria Smalls named ED of multi-state heritage group

The Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission announced recently that Victoria Smalls of St. Helena Island will be its next executive director.

Smalls (right) is a National Park Ranger with the Reconstruction Era National Historical Park in Beaufort, a public historian, educator, arts advocate, and cultural preservationist. She also serves as a maven for the S.C. Arts Commission program "The Art of Community: Rural SC," helping her community reimagine itself through an arts lens. Beginning July 26, she will lead the four-state National Heritage Area under the National Park Service that extends from North Carolina to Florida. A "rigorous national search process" was used to identify its new leadership. “I am profoundly grateful for the opportunity to advance the great work of the commission, where I can serve the corridor in a focused capacity—as an advocate and connector—promoting the magnificent richness of the culture, sharing the beauty of the people, and helping to support and uplift our communities," Smalls said. Smalls served on the 13-member federal commission as a South Carolina commissioner from 2016-2020. She will return to lead the corridor with her extensive knowledge as a primary resource in the Gullah Geechee community, working in cultural education and development, across the corridor and internationally. The corridor’s mission is to create and build strategic alliances to strengthen the preservation and stimulation of Gullah Geechee people and communities within the global corridor. The Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor was established in 2006 by Congress to recognize and preserve the cultural treasures of Gullah Geechee people. Gullah Geechee people are direct descendants of enslaved people brought from primarily Africa’s rice-producing regions who were forced to work for almost two centuries on coastal plantations in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and northern Florida. In 2013, the Secretary of the Interior and the National Park Service approved the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Management Plan in an effort to support the recognition of important contributions made by Gullah Geechee people, their history, traditions and origins. Guiding the Corridor through its reauthorization process this year is an important first responsibility for the new executive director. Dr. Dionne Hoskins-Brown of Savannah chairs the Commission and leaves the role of acting director as Smalls assumes leadership. “I am absolutely ecstatic that we are able to place someone as capable as Ms. Smalls at the helm of our organization. She is eminently qualified, uniquely prepared, and profoundly representative of the community,” Hoskins-Brown said.
A lifelong member and descendent of the Gullah Geechee community, Smalls has emerged as one of the thriving voices in cultural preservation education. Her professional work in Beaufort County in 2012 at the Historic Penn Center on St. Helena Island, one of the country’s first schools for formerly enslaved people. She then served for five years as the director of history, art, and culture and director of the York W. Bailey Museum. In 2019, Smalls returned to Penn Center to serve in various roles, including as a cultural, historical, and creative diplomat and providing leadership and strategic direction while articulating positive impacts of the Penn Center’s 159-year history to the public. She is as a commissioner with the South Carolina African American Heritage Commission, through which she assisted in identifying and promoting the preservation of historic sites, structures, buildings, and culture of the African American experience. Smalls is also a Riley Fellow with Furman University’s Riley Institute’s Diversity Leaders Initiative, which helps leverage diversity to improve organizational outcomes and drive social and economic progress in South Carolina. Smalls has additional experience serving with partnering organizations and commissioned boards that align with the mission of the commission, including:
  • the International African American Museum (IAAM) as program manager,
  • as a cultural consultant for the Joyner Institute for Gullah and African Diaspora Studies at Coastal Carolina University,
  • and most recently with the National Park Service (NPS) as a park ranger at the Reconstruction Era National Historical Park in Beaufort that educates the public on the Reconstruction Era (1861-1900), the historic period in which the U.S. grappled with how to integrate millions of newly freed African Americans into social, political, economic, and labor systems.
In the latter role, she provided education and interpretation at historic sites to diverse visitors, conducted presentations for secondary and higher education audiences, conducted relevant research, and served as the liaison between affiliated networks.

Jason Rapp

Deadline extended for Penn Center artist residency

APPLICATION DEADLINE: Tuesday, June 1, 2021 at 5 p.m. ET

Beaufort County's Penn Center, one of the nation’s most important institutions of African American culture and history, invites submissions for an artist residency program.

Offered in partnership with the Willson Center for Humanities and Arts at the University of Georgia, and made possible by the support of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The deadline to apply for this residency is now June 1. Applications can be made by individual artists, or by a collective in a single submission. Proposals can be in any media (visual/ sonic/ literary/ performance), but must relate to the histories and cultures of the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor in contexts of the theme, "Civil Rights and Social Justice." The residency will be held from Sept. 1, 2021 to June 30, 2022, subject to pandemic safety protocols. To be selected, projects must engage with, or partner with, one or more of the Sea Island communities. Projects may also build from material or archival holdings in Penn Center, or other relevant museums, archives, or collections. Outcomes—readings, exhibitions, performances or installations—will be mounted at Penn Center, or another suitable site, which may be in coordination with the annual Penn Center Heritage Festival.


For consideration, please submit:
  • An artist statement of up to 750 words describing your proposed project, its relationship with the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, its relevance to the theme, "Civil Rights and Social Justice," and a description of the outcome of your proposed residency
  • A personal statement of up to 500 words explaining your interest in this program
  • A digital resume, portfolio, or website
  • A draft budget, including materials, and travel costs
These materials should be submitted to Winnie Smith at wsmith78@uga.edu by 5 p.m. EDT, Tuesday, June 1.

Artist Residency Details

Each year the artist residency offers:
  • An honorarium of up to $10,000
  • Materials and exhibition support of up to $15,000
  • Travel, accommodation, and subsistence support of up to $5,000
These costs may be shared among a group of artists if a collective application is chosen. It is a condition of the residency that successful applicants will collaborate directly with Penn Center on project planning and orientation before their residency begins. It is further expected that successful applicants will continue to build close relationships with Penn Center, and the communities with which it connects along the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, during and after the residency. The selection process for the artist residency will be informed by the steering committee and advisory board of Culture and Community at the Penn Center National Historic Landmark District.


Each project must take place within one year of the award, and the outcome of each project must be open to public access through Penn Center on its completion. Each residency can last up to one month total in duration, which does not need to be consecutive so long as the project is completed within the project year. The duration of each residency will depend on the nature of the project, and we are happy to discuss flexibility in relation to other responsibilities, subject again to pandemic safety protocols.

About the Artist Residency

These artist residencies are offered as part of Culture and Community at the Penn Center National Historic Landmark District, which is a collaboration between Penn Center and the Willson Center for Humanities and Arts, at the University of Georgia. Culture and Community at the Penn Center National Historic Landmark District is funded by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

About Penn Center

Penn Center is one of the most significant African American historical and cultural institutions in existence today. It is located on St. Helena Island, one of the most beautiful and historically distinct of the South Carolina Sea Islands, and at the heart of Gullah Geechee culture. Founded in 1862 on 50 acres of land by the formerly enslaved farmer and Reconstruction-era legislator Hastings Gantt, Penn Center’s uninterrupted history as a vibrant center of African American education, economic empowerment, self-determination, and grass-roots activism spans from the Civil War and Reconstruction, through the 20-century Civil Rights Movement, to the present day. The Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor runs from the coast of North Carolina to the coast of Florida.


Please contact Winnie Smith at wsmith78@uga.edu if you have questions about this program.

Jason Rapp

Beaufort County students get creative, go national

From The Island Packet Column by Lisa Annelouise Rentz

"Our home is the origins of Africans in the United States," Tanya Phillips reminded eleven high school students at the St. Helena branch library. "Tell a story from your area. What perspective are you coming from? What do you want your audience to see?" We were sitting in the meeting room where a twenty-five foot ceiling gave these young artists plenty of room to consider her words. Space is a primary factor in getting creative work done, and there it is on St. Helena Island, along with fields of strawberries and breakfasts of just-caught oysters. Phillips is organizing the first group of Beaufort students-- poets, actors, dancers and engineers-- to compete in the Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics. The event was founded in 1978 by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The group has been meeting at the library, a contemporary facility that is just as inspiring to these students as Phillips' words and actions. The building, opened in 2012, has clean angles and smooth curves, lots of sunlight and glass, and is equipped with array of tools-- an audio lab, a room woven like a cast net and an amphitheater-like reading garden among them. These components form a studio that every artist could use. It's no coincidence that Penn Center, that historically creative and inspirational place, is the library's neighbor. Tenth grader Jordan Johnson, who wore a delicate scarf draped around her shoulders, is competing in both drama and painting. "I've always been a dramatic child to begin with," she said. So far she's been behind the scenes, building props. "I love every aspect, but now I've decided to be on the frontlines," she said. She's working on voice projection and stage presence with a three minute monologue. "Having confidence is about letting people know that you know what you are doing," she said. Her painting will be a landscape. "My dad and I scouted and took lots of pictures of marshes and birds taking off." After the business meeting, a few of us moved into the cast net room. It spirals like a nautilus shell in the center of the library. Even with its open weave, walking into it feels like a separate place. There, the high schoolers discussed why they're competing. "It's important to get experience and connect with good people who have your best interest in mind," Johnson said. "This will be the first time I'm performing as myself," said Tavian Smalls. His art-making tool is the saxophone. "I've already done big performances," said poet William Garvin. "This is good to get my name out there." Garvin's stage name is Da Troot. He recently performed his poem "No Regrets" at the Penn Center Civil Right Symposium and for the board of education. He was inspired by anti-violence demonstrations in Ferguson, Mo. "I write a poem every day," Garvin explained, "to figure out what I'm most connected to." Before he started writing, he was frustrated. "I would shut down, and I was showing up at in-school suspension all the time," he said. Finally, someone put paper and pencil in his hands. Now, "I just rhyme, put my perspective on everything I see," he said. And he spends a lot of time at the library, serving on the teen advisory board, teaching others to use the audio lab, and organizing open mic events in the reading garden-- which is where we went next to take photographs for the souvenir program. The garden is a grand, open space with benches, tufts of sweet grass and a view of the big trees on Penn Center's property, all reflected in the glass wall of the library. Steps run the length of the building and form an organic stage for whoever stops there with something to say about what rhymes for them. Students have until May 2, when they will show off their creative ambitions at the Performing Arts Center at the University of South Carolina-Beaufort. Marlena Smalls will emcee. In July, contenders will move on to the nationals in Philadelphia, to compete for $200,000, recognition, internships and publication-- and meaningful connections between their heritage, the world, and their ideas. Lisa Annelouise Rentz lives in Beaufort.
Image: photos from the 2014 national event.

New Penn Center director envisions visitor destination

According to the Island Packet, new director Michael Campi wants to take the Penn Center experience to the next level - "not just looking, but doing."

The new executive director of the Penn Center says the site has an important story to tell that should attract visitors on its own merits to learn about the culture of slave descendants on South Carolina's sea islands. "I'm trying to turn Penn into a destination — not just a place you go to on a rainy day while you're on vacation," Michael Campi told the Associated Press during a recent interview. Campi has been on the job for about four months at the center that during its first 150 years has served as a school for freed slaves, a Jim Crow-era industrial school and a retreat center for leaders of the civil rights movement — most notably the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. The center, with 19 buildings and a museum about a two-hour drive southwest of Charleston, is the nation's only national historic landmark district owned and operated by a minority. Its mission is to not only tell the story of the Gullah past, but work to preserve the culture today threatened by rapid coastal development. Gullah is the name of the culture of descendants of sea island slaves in the Carolinas. Campi, 53 and the first white executive director in the last half-century, comes to the Penn Center with a varied 30-year background with fundraising and other nonprofit organizations. That work included working with Junior Achievement and running a shelter for abused youngsters. "I'm a come ya, that's the Gullah term," Campi, who is from Conway, S.C., said, referring to the creole language's term for people who arrive on the islands, or come here, from outside. But he said that also gives him a new perspective on the center and its potential. "I think that's exactly the perspective the trustees wanted and why I am here," Campi said. He has asked Walter Mack, whom he succeeded as executive director and who has been at Penn a quarter-century, to develop a master plan for the center and its property by year's end. The center owns about 500 acres on the sea islands, about 40 percent of which is rented to others for agriculture. Campi said there may be uses for the rest of the land from harvesting timber to growing hay to raising black angus beef to sell to restaurants and the public. He'd like to bring in craftspeople such as sweetgrass basket makers and cast net weavers to show their crafts regularly to center visitors who could then make small baskets or nets of their own. "I want to take the experience to the next level — not just looking, but doing," he said. Perhaps the center's marsh tacky horse named Bo could be tethered outside the center's museum to greet visitors. Or perhaps Bo could lead visitors along the center's one-mile nature trail while a Gullah storyteller rides and tells Gullah tales, he said. The marsh tacky has long played an important role Gullah culture, suited as they are to toiling long hours in brush, swamps and the oppressive humidity of the sea islands. Campi suggested that perhaps the cottage where King penned his "I Have a Dream" speech could be made into a library for research about the civil rights leader. Such changes will be a group decision, he said. "I really feel that people by and large are taking a wait-and-see approach with me. What is this middle-aged, white, balding guy going to do with Penn? I'm trying to lead by consensus," he said. In a bigger way, though, Campi feels he is somehow meant to be here. Then running psychiatric hospital in Kingstree, S.C., he interviewed for the job last Valentine's Day. But shortly afterward, a medical condition left him in a coma for a month. He emerged from the coma and about a week later was told he had the Penn Center job. "God hit me over the head and said you've got one control-alt-delete — you've got one reset," he said. "I think the Lord said this is where you are going."
Via: The Island Packet

Students invited to submit art for Sam Doyle Celebration in Beaufort

Sam Doyle, Wellcome TableARTworks in Beaufort and the Penn Center invite students to submit artwork as part of the Sam Doyle Celebration, an event recognizing St. Helena Island native and self-taught artist Sam Doyle's ingenuity and self-expression. Doyle documented life on the island with house paint and honesty, scraps of tin and a strong sense of humanity, often painting on household objects. Students are encouraged to do so as well, using items such as plywood, tin roofing, empty paint cans, doors, etc. Teachers are encouraged to take advantage of several educational resources to teach students about Doyle and then have students create art for the celebration. Teachers may submit work by students in grades 3 through 12, and work should reflect what students have learned about Doyle and from his paintings. 2D and 3D visual art works are eligible. Entries are welcome from any school, not just Beaufort County schools. Available resources:

  • DVD of Victoria Small's "Sam Doyle: Historical Portrait of a Gullah Icon" presentation
  • Color copy of "Sam Doyle: Haints & Saints" by Gordon W. Bailey (a booklet of Doyle's biography, context, and 10 paintings.)
  • "Sam Doyle's Themes & History Lessons" lesson plan -- a discussion guide of Doyle's themes, subjects and materials.
  • "That's Natural, Man"  -- five steps through sketches and creative writing.
The resources, other helpful links and complete submission details are posted on ARTworks' website. Find more about Doyle and his work on the Foundation for Self Taught Artist's website, and view Doyle's work, Adlade, a Slave, which is in the South Carolina Arts Commission's State Art Collection. Artwork must be delivered to the Penn Center by Oct. 1. All accepted work will be exhibited at Penn Center in October, with three pieces chosen for recognition. Student artwork will be part of Sam Doyle Night, scheduled for 5 - 8 p.m. on Oct. 10, when Penn Center's collection of Doyle's paintings will be on display. Student work will be for sale (at a very affordable price) and will benefit ARTworks & Penn Center's continued support for emerging student artists. The public is invited to the Oct. 10 event  (tickets are $25), but students, their immediate families and sponsoring teachers are admitted free. Contact Victoria Smalls, director of history and culture at Penn Center, for information about the event and arrangements: (843) 838-2432. Related: Read more about the Sam Doyle Celebration. Image: Sam Doyle, Wellcome Table. Collection of Gordon W. Bailey. Via: ARTworks    

ARTworks and the Beaufort community celebrate artist Sam Doyle

Beginning in September, visitors to ARTworks in Beaufort will have the rare opportunity to see the work of self-taught artist Sam Doyle presented in the community where he spent his life and derived his inspirations. The Sam Doyle Celebration kicks off Sept. 22 with a special reception and runs through Oct. 6. All paintings in the exhibition are on loan from private collections. Born in 1906 on St. Helena Island in the South Carolina Lowcountry, Doyle "fashioned his uniquely styled personal portraits and tributes with evangelical enthusiasm, blending ancestral Gullah lore and his devout Baptist faith into a rich multicultural impasto," according to Gordon W. Bailey, an expert on Doyle's work. Doyle attended Penn School (now the Penn Center), established in 1862 to provide educational and vocational skills to newly liberated slaves. Sam Doyle, Penn DrummerThe artist filled his property -- the "St. Helena Out Door Art Gallery -- with portraits of people important to his community, such as Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., First Black Midwife, Penn Drummer (detail pictured right, from the collection of Gordon W. Bailey) and other icons. He also created two important series: "Penn" (school), which paid tribute to people associated with the historic center and "First" (achievements), which commemorated special events such as the first football game played on St. Helena Island. "I have been intrigued by his art, and the man, since I moved to Beaufort 20 years ago," said Claudette Humphrey, a board member for ARTworks. "It's time that we have a Sam Doyle Celebration so the rest of the community can be inspired by his unique art style and talent. The children and the community need to be enriched by his creativity and the diversity of Gullah art." Sam Doyle, Wellcome TableThe Sam Doyle Celebration opening reception is Sept. 22 from 2 - 5 p.m. Tickets are $25 and must be purchased in advance by calling (843) 379-2787. The reception includes special guests sharing firsthand stories about Doyle, a presentation by Victoria Smalls, Penn's Center director of history and culture, and a buffet at the "Wellcome Table," inspired by one of the artist's paintings (pictured left, from the collection of Gordon W. Bailey). On Oct. 10, the Penn Center will host Sam Doyle Night from 5 to 8 p.m., where guests can see the center's Sam Doyle Collection and enjoy a student art show and sale. Tickets are $25. Call (843) 838-2432 for more information. Related: Students invited to submit art for celebration. The Sam Doyle Celebration is a partnership between ARTworks, Penn Center, the Red Piano Too gallery, and Gordon W. Bailey. For more information about Doyle, the exhibition and related events, visit ARTworks' website. For more information about Doyle's life and work, visit the Foundation for Self Taught Artists website. View Sam Doyle's work, Adlade, a Slave, which is in the South Carolina Arts Commission's State Art Collection. Via: ARTworks