Local Group Promoting Diversity in the Arts Explodes in Membership

Shanti Broom works in the iron studio at Penland, 2019. Photo by Sarah Hutchinson.

“It takes a lot for people to look up from their own personal lives and start thinking about their community as a whole,” says conceptual furniture artist Annie Evelyn. “For me it was the South Carolina massacre [at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in June 2015], on the heels of the murder of Tamir Rice, that made me think, ‘I can’t sit here and make furniture while people are dying every day from systemic racism.’”

In early 2019, she and fellow Penland artist Corey Pemberton co-founded Crafting the Future, a collective in support of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) in the fields of craft, art, and design. Crafting the Future works with participants across the country and partnering organizations in Louisiana (Young Aspirations/Young Artists, known as YAYA); Kentucky (STEAM Exchange); North Carolina (Penland School of Craft); and Maine (Haystack Mountain School of Crafts). Their goal is to increase access to education and opportunity for underrepresented artists and help them develop thriving careers.

Pemberton is a Los Angeles-based glassblower and painter whose work has been exhibited at the Contemporary Art Museum in Raleigh and at Blue Spiral 1 in Asheville. He met Evelyn at Penland — where they hatched the idea for Crafting the Future. “It was inspired by a series of impassioned conversations between Annie and myself about the lack of diversity in our field,” he says. “We thought our peers must be as disturbed about it as we were, so why not offer some sort of solution? If we were feeling helpless to affect change on an individual level, maybe we could make a bigger difference by banding together.”

Soon Crafting the Future had raised more than $8,000 to send two young New Orleans students, Tyrik Conaler and Shanti Broom, to Penland. While Conaler worked in the painting studio, Broom studied ironwork

“Penland was a beautiful experience for me,” Broom says. “In my eyes, it is this open space, almost like an oasis, where you’re not judged and you can be free from the shackles of everyday life.” She says the experience made her more fearless in her pursuit of art as a career, and she returned home with a newfound passion. She’s worked with a blacksmith in New Orleans, and during the pandemic has been painting larger works on canvas and embroidering clothing, with the goal of launching an online business. “I was recently able to rent a studio with my partner,” Broom reports, “and we are about to build and furnish the studio of our dreams.”

Despite the challenges of COVID-19, a growing number of artists have banded together to fundraise for more student scholarships like the one that helped Broom move closer to her goals. “One of the most surprising things to me,” Pemberton says, “has been the financial support we are receiving from our peers.” The membership page went live this past February, and in the next three months culled around 50 members and raised $2,000. Then, following the killing of George Floyd in late May and the ensuing protests and “raised awareness of racial injustice,” says Evelyn, membership ballooned to more than 1,200.

“We raised over $100,000 in a month, from donations and art raffles,” says Pemberton. “That blows my mind.”

For more information, see craftingthefuture.org or e-mail info@craftingthefuture.org.

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