Penland was excited to host—in mid-October—its third annual HBCU Tour, which brought nine students and three faculty members from North Carolina A&T University to campus for two days of tours, talks, mentorship, and hands-on activities.
The event was organized by Yolanda Sommer, who is Penland’s manager of diversity recruitment and partnerships. In the three years the program has been offered, the school has partnered with four different historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to create awareness of Penland’s craft workshops among the students and faculty of these institutions. The idea began with a conversation between Yolanda and artist Sharif Bey, who has taught at Penland and is now on the board of trustees. Sharif noted that the HBCUs offered campus tours to high school students, and it would be great if the craft schools could, in turn, offer some kind of orientation to HBCU students.
After a successful visit with students and faculty from Claflin University and South Carolina State in 2019, the 2020 event, with participation from Savannah State University and North Carolina A&T, was conducted virtually with prerecorded videos and live Zoom content, making it one of the few Penland programs that was not cancelled in 2020.
This year’s group arrived on Thursday evening and stayed through midday on Saturday. They were joined by three Black artist-mentors: metalsmith David Harper Clemons, glass artist Ché Rhodes, and printmaker Althea Murphy-Price. These three stayed with the group throughout and were able to have individual conversations with students about their career paths in both making and teaching.
The students were a lively and engaged group of art and design majors with strong areas of interest but limited experience in craft disciplines. They were treated to a deluxe tour of Penland’s studios led by work-study student Shae Bishop with lots of supplemental information from the three artist mentors and the instructors of the six Penland workshops that were in progress at the time.
The visit also included a session explaining Penland’s scholarship programs in detail, a presentation by studio operations manager Amanda N. Simons about the novel approach she took to financing her education, a talk by Dr. Tamara Brothers, deputy director of the North Carolina Arts Council, shared meals, and freeform discussions with the whole group.
The culmination of the visit was two hands-on activities, one in metals led by David Harper Clemons, and the other in flameworked glass led by Penland Core Fellow SaraBeth Post. It was the middle of fall leaf season, and the activities were both based on the forms of tree leaves. The result was several high-energy hours of sawing, hammering, and torch work before the group loaded into their van for the trip back to Greensboro.
Follow-up will include two full scholarships for 2022 summer workshops with travel and materials stipends that are specifically for students who have participated in one of the HBCU tours. The students are also encouraged to apply for all categories of Penland scholarship (including 25+ other full scholarships that specifically target people of color). Yolanda has also made herself available to the students for any assistance they might need with their applications. In 2021, five former HBCU participants attended Penland workshops with scholarships.
Penland hopes to have an ongoing relationship with the schools that have been part of this program, and to foster that relationship, Penland has also designated two 2022 scholarships (with stipends) for faculty members from the HBCUs. These scholarships are funded by a grant from the Maxwell Hanrahan Foundation.
Kyesha Jennings, content director for the North Carolina Arts Council, also joined in for part of the tour, observing, taking photographs and video, and talking to the students. She recently posted an excellent article with her take on the program.
Penland School is grateful to the Windgate Charitable Foundation and the Kenan Charitable Trust for their support of the HBCU tour. Yolanda is currently planning next year’s tour with Spelman College and Morehouse College.