DesignedBlack was a club started by Solange Wright in response to a perceived lack of diversity in the University of Connecticut School of Fine Arts.
“I noticed that in my Digital Media and Design classes, a lot of the people in my classes were not only mostly male, but also were all white. So I was the only girl and the only Black girl. And so I found it hard to find people that looked like me and had similar interests as me and also shared the same identity as me. And I felt like that was really important. And I was needed at UConn.”
The quote above came from Solange Wright, a UConn senior with an individualized major in DMD and Applied Communications and former president of DesignedBlack from the 2020-2021 school year. DesignedBlack, simply put, is a club for Black creatives to come together and share a collective passion for art. That need for something better than what the University of Connecticut could offer her was clear. For the Fall 2021 semester, there were 41 Black people in the School of Fine Arts across all campuses out of a total 697 students, stated Stephanie Reitz, the UConn spokesperson, in an email correspondence. This translates to Black students making up 5.9% of the SFA population. These aren’t the statistics for Fall 2020, but on a campus where improving diversity and inclusion is a central goal, they are an example of an underrepresented issue in the creative art communities.
DesignedBlack was founded during the pandemic semesters, a difficult time for the club, Wright said. She cited the strict Covid restrictions and said that the club stuck to virtual meetings and workshops. She couldn’t do much of what she envisioned like struggling to coordinate the creation of a zine. With the current executive board, DesignedBlack has a productive future, as evidenced by the workshops they have planned for this semester, like pop-up shoots and video editing tutorials.
A flash. That’s all it has to take to inspire somebody. For Valerie Lopes, the current president of DesignedBlack, it came on her tenth birthday with a gift from her brother.
“When I was 10, my brother took me to get my first camera for my birthday. I still remember… he took me to this garden and I was just taking pictures of the flowers all zoomed in and stuff, messing around. I think I still have it,” Lopes said.
Her brother would play soccer and Valerie would run after him, camera in hand, trying to capture the action. Sports photography seems to run in the blood of the club; the Vice President, Chad Williams, started shooting sports in high school.
“In high school, we had a media teacher. He always asked students in his classes: Hey, can you take this camera and go take pictures at the sports games like track and field, football and volleyball? Those photos were going to the yearbook,” Williams stated.
These people weren’t necessarily role models for Lopes and Williams, but they served as a spark to that creative flame that enwraps the souls of artists. All it took was one person for them to break out of their creative shell. As the leaders of DesignedBlack, they are kindling wood for other thriving artists. More pieces of the essential fire can be found in Williams’s background in traditional drawing.
“So in fifth grade, I had another friend. He was like the only other artist friend I had. I still talk to him, too. He created these two characters called Sam and BlueFire. I wasn’t involved in art as much back then. I wasn’t as strong in it. And when I found him, I was like, I want to make a character too,” Williams stated.
On the other hand, Lopes took inspiration from Marvel and YouTube vlogs. She loved the idea of sharing memories, but being able to do so in a variety of ways. It was just so fun for her to share those memories with other people.
“I think back in videos for some reason, like whatever picture or video I took. I’m not well at remembering things straight from my memory. I’ll think back to a video I took and replay it. So I think that’s why I got into videos and why I keep doing them and editing them. So I can remember what’s happened, see those memories again, and share those feelings again,” Lopes said.
Through her appreciation for the fun of creating memories and the positivity of Williams’s personality, DesignedBlack becomes this place where budding artists are encouraged to collaborate with one another. Through the workshops, the executive board can serve as teachers to the next generation of artists. Lopes directed a pop-up shoot on Friday, October 22 inside the Student Union. There, she taught club members how to shoot on manual, showcasing settings like shutter speed and aperture. Williams also taught Premiere Pro, a video editing software, in a separate workshop. To encourage further involvement in the workshops, club members would vote on what topics they wanted to cover before the sessions.
Williams, inspired by his 5th grader comrade, drew fiercely to create his own original character. He describes a moment ten years later when he was sifting through his basement and he found an old drawing of that character, named Terry.
From the start, Terry was clearly William’s character. Terry radiates an irresistibly charismatic and optimistic charm. That character is Williams’s role model. And through DesignedBlack, he achieves his goal of becoming a positive driving force in other peoples’ lives.
“Sometimes they’ll sit there like shy. They’ll just start going away at what they want to do. I remember I went up to one kid, and I was like, what are you working on? Because I saw him with a drawing tablet. I was like, wait a minute, I know what that is. So I went over, like what you work on? He was like, oh, I’m just practicing some anatomy and stuff. I was like, I know about that! Let me talk to you about that,” Williams said.
“And having people be like, Oh, this is here. If I knew about this, I would have definitely joined like my freshman year and stuff. So it’s great to hear that feedback and stuff,” Lopes said.
Lopes also stressed that DesignedBlack is a space for artists to relax outside of the toil of academics and to just create something. Just try something, Williams said. He joined the club to figure out what his passions and interests are; now, he and Lopes are helping others do the same.
“It’s more just a place to promote and give a platform for black creatives. Anyone can join the club. But it’s more of the the fact like I will create something and probably won’t get as much of a push up like anybody else who looks like me, or like, I don’t know, anybody else who’s working on the same stuff that has the same identity as me… it’s harder to find,” Lopes said.
Ultimately, DesignedBlack is still a new club. They are still figuring out how to keep club members engaged. However, it seems to be in very good hands.
As Williams puts it, “Don’t be afraid to try it. That was something I learned my freshman year and I kept it in the back of my head. If you have the slightest interest in something, just go for it.”