Mapping 100 years of African Diasporic Arts History in Providence

December 5, 2013

Mapping Arts – Providence reveals the lives, influence, and work of black artists in Providence from the 1860s through the 1960s. The project connects the legacies of artists including painter Edward Bannister, singer Sarah Vaughan, and jazz musician James Berry, who all spent time in the city and shaped its cultural landscape. The hub of the project is a digital map with historical information and images about black artistic influence on Providence.

Mapping Arts - Providence was developed in my course Space and Place: Geographies of the Black Atlantic. In the course, students learned about concepts of space and place through a focus on African diasporas. We considered how histories are produced, and their relation to archives and memory. Looking at maps, reading texts, and analyzing images, we discussed how spaces and places are created, experienced, and represented. Students also learned about research and projects in the public and digital humanities, considering the intersections between research and public audiences. Bruce Boucek, the Brown University Library’s mapping specialist, introduced students to mapping technologies including ArcGIS, Google Maps, and Social Explorer. Bringing together the themes of the course along with the experience in spatial data and visualization, we embarked on the project of researching and mapping Providence’s African diasporic arts history.

We began by taking a tour with Ray Rickman, former president of the Rhode Island Black Heritage Society. On the tour we learned about the history of black life in Providence, and set out to visit historic sites around the city. Then, as a class we visited the site of the former Celebrity Club; the first integrated club in New England. The Rhode Island Black Heritage Society has marked the location with a plaque at a nearby intersection. This semester students worked to conduct the initial research for the site. We will continue adding artists and locations with additional research, public input, and partnerships with local organizations.

The project will be showcased in a public launch on Thursday, December 12, in Brown University’s Digital Scholarship Lab on the first floor of Rockefeller Library (10 Prospect Street, Providence, RI). Join us to learn more, and to help us develop the project with your input.

Mapping Arts – Providence is part of a larger Mapping Arts Project created in 2009, and run by the 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, Blackbird Arts and Research. So far the project has mapped the lives and work of artists in Miami during the 1920s through the 1950s. We thank the Center for Public Humanities, the Rhode Island Black Heritage Society, and the Graduate Student Council for supporting the development of Mapping Arts – Providence. 

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Guest blogger Lara Stein Pardo is a artist and anthropologist and current post-doctoral research associate in Public Humanities at the Center.  Learn more about Lara's work here and read an interview with Lara here.

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