Spalding University presents the Fourth Annual Elmer Lucille Allen Conference on African American Studies this Thursday and Friday, Feb. 24-25. This year’s conference will be a hybrid event with both virtual and small, in-person sessions.

As in years past, Allen, a 1953 graduate of Spalding (then called Nazareth College) and the first Black chemist at Brown-Forman, will be a keynote speaker at the conference. Allen, an accomplished artist, will give a presentation about her art at 6 p.m. Friday. Stachelle Bussey, executive director of the Hope Buss, will give a keynote address followed by a panel discussion at 6 p.m. on opening night. Both keynotes will take place in person on Spalding’s campus for a limited crowd; the general public will be able to livestream via GoToMeeting or join by phone at +1 (872) 240-3212 with access code: 487-655-269.

Dr. Deonte Hollowell, Assistant Professor of History and African American Studies, will help lead the conference and kick things off with a virtual session, “The State of African American Studies” at 2:30 p.m. Thursday. He will also facilitate presentations for students of two African American Studies courses that he teaches: History of Socio-politics in Black Louisville (a course co-taught with former Mayor of Louisville and Spalding Executive-in-Residence Jerry Abramson) and African Civilizations.

In addition to Dr. Hollowell, this year’s evening is sponsored and supported by Dr. Mark Martinez, Assistant Professor in the School of Communication; Dr. Melissa Chastain, Chair of the School of Communication and Dean of Enrollment Management and Strategic Initiatives; Damian Botner, Department Coordinator for the School of Liberal Studies; Dr. Pattie Dillon, Chair of Liberal Studies & Professor of History; Community Organizer Tia Coatley; and the West Louisville Women’s Collaborative.

Guests and attendees will also enjoy a musical performance by Kat Coatley and video presentations by students at Louisville’s Coleman Prep Academy.

Conference Schedule

Day 1: Thursday, Feb. 24

2:30-2:45 p.m. – Dr. Deonte Hollowell: The State of African American Studies (Virtual)
2:45-4:25 p.m. – History of Socio-politics in Black Louisville presentations (Virtual)
4:30-5:30 p.m. – African Civilizations Class Discussions (Virtual)
5:30 p.m. – Doors open for all in-person events
6:00-6:30 p.m. – Stachelle Bussey: Keynote (Hybrid: Lecture Lounge)
6:30-7:15 p.m. – Spalding Administrators & Students Panel Facilitator Stachelle Bussey (Hybrid: Lecture Lounge)

Day 2: Friday, Feb. 25

5:30 p.m. – Doors open for all in-person events
6:00-6:30 p.m. – Elmer Lucille Allen Exhibition Presentation (In-Person: Huff Gallery)
6:30-6:45 p.m. –  Musical Performance by Kat Coatley (Hybrid: Lecture Lounge)
6:45-7:00 p.m. – Video Presentations from Coleman Prep Academy (Hybrid: Lecture Lounge)
7:00-7:30 p.m. – Elmer Lucille Allen: Keynote (Hybrid: Lecture Lounge)
7:30-8:00 p.m. – Closing Remarks (Hybrid: Lecture Lounge) & Exhibition Reception (In-person: Huff Gallery)

The general public can livestream the virtual and hybrid events via GoToMeeting or join by phone at +1 (872) 240-3212 with access code: 487-655-269. If you have issues with the link or have any questions, email Damian Botner at [email protected].

For in-person registrants:

  • Event Parking is located in front of the Egan Leadership Center – You can enter the parking lot from Breckinridge St or 3rd St.
  • Doors open at 5:30 p.m. and will be held in the Spalding University Library (follow signs for entry and check-in)
  • Masks are required for entry and will be provided if you do not have one.
  • Light refreshments will be provided both evenings

An appropriate motto for today’s Spalding University Creative Arts Department would be: If you have an idea of something you’d like to make, we have the tools you’ll need. Lots and lots of them.

The art program – and the capacity for students to bring their concepts to life – has been bolstered this academic year with the unveiling of the Spalding Makerspace, a series of large rooms in Mansion East that are newly equipped with both state-of-the-art digital art technology and a bevy of traditional wood- and metal-working  machines.

“It’s a pretty exciting moment for the art program and the Spalding campus as a whole,” said Assistant Professor of Digital Media Josh Azzarella, who has overseen the acquisition of a 3D-printer, a laser cutter and other high-tech devices in the new Makerspace.

The high-tech pieces combine with the many saws, shears and welders in the new wood and metal shop to create a Makerspace that will be heavily integrated into the curriculum of an art department that’s focused on introducing students to design thinking and how it applies to a range of ways to build and make.

Shawn Hennessey welds in the Spalding Makerspace
Hennessey uses welding tools in the Spalding Makerspace.

“Oh, man, we are so lucky,” said Assistant Professor of 3D Art Shawn Hennessey, who is also Creative Arts’ studio technician and the manager of the wood and metal shop. “We have this great confluence of high and low tech. We have all these low-tech options, so that people can still work with their hands, and we also have all these high-tech things for students to utilize their technical prowess or use a computer to make something physical. I think it’s a cool program because you can go back and forth between the two.”

The goal is that by graduation, Creative Arts students who use the Spalding Makerspace will be proficient in using the array of high- and low-tech equipment and have a broad understanding of creative problem-solving. They will learn many ways to make art and manipulate materials while developing skills to land a job in a field that regquires design thinking and craftsmanship.

“The things that students do here at Spalding are concept-driven,” Hennessey said. “They have an idea of something they want to make, or a project they want to do, and that steers them, and they gather the skills along the way.”

LEARN MORE | Overview of Spalding’s Creative Arts program
RELATED | Read a Q&A with Creative Arts Professor Shawn Hennessey

Here’s a rundown of some of the equipment in the new Spalding Makerspace:


3D laser-cutting printer: After a design is entered into a computer, the Glowforge laser cutter burns it onto wood – etching, engraving and cutting with very fine and precise lines and curves.

In the span of a few minutes on a recent afternoon, Azzarella cut and engraved a half-dozen wooden key chains.

3D printer: The Creative Arts Department is acquiring a Formlabs Fuse 1 3D printer that creates pieces using powdered nylon and a laser through a process called selective laser sintering.

The high-tech printers will enable Spalding art students and faculty to use their imagination to create not only interesting pieces of art but also explore how creativity and design thinking can be applied to make functional devices and inventions in all kinds of settings and fields.

Because that printer is capable of making products that are flexible and bendable, Azzarella foresees the Creative Arts Department collaborating with faculty from Spalding’s Auerbach School of Occupational Therapy to make assistive-technology devices and modifications for people with disabilities.

They’ve already had success.

Using a different 3D printer, Azzarella and occupational therapy Associate Professor Dr. Sara Story teamed up to design and build a small plastic attachment that fits on a toy baby stroller belonging to a 2-year-old girl who was born a limb difference and only one hand. With Azzarella and Story’s modified device, which cost only 42 cents to produce, the girl is able to use both arms to push and steer the stroller that she loves so much.

RELATED WLKY-32 STORY | Little girl with ‘lucky fin’ gets help playing with toys from Spalding

“If we’re able to do that for more kids or more people in the community, that’s amazing,” Azzarella said. “It’s fulfilling in a way that I haven’t really felt before. … We kind of changed the world of a little girl’s life.”

Hennessey, who builds puppets and puts on community puppet shows through Squallis Puppeteers, agreed.

“I want our students to understand that you don’t just have to make something to sell,” he said. “(By using your creativity) you can actually improve your community.”

A digital sewing machine: Students design a fabric pattern on a computer, which then sends the file to the sewing machine to stitch the pattern at a high speed. Azzarella said it’s a neat machine for students interested in embroidery.

Virtual reality technology: By wearing an HTC VIVE headset and using Google Tilt Brush software, students can paint virtually in a panoramic, three-dimensional setting. It’s a useful tool for students who are interested in designing video games or virtual environments. “Students can paint like they would on a canvas,” Azzarella said, “but we can enter that painting, walk into it and through it and around it and look at it from every different vantage point.”

Spalding Professor Shawn Hennessey uses a metal cutter in the Spalding Maker Space
Hennessey uses a metal cutter.


The large studio at the end of the lower level of Mansion East has been updated and equipped with nearly 20 new pieces of professional-grade wood- and metal-working machinery. The shop provides art students with a foundation for learning to use traditional three-dimensional materials in a safe, clean, well-supervised setting.

Hennessey said he’s had fun seeing dozens of students quickly gain confidence using saws, drills, metal shears, sanders and welding machines that may have originally felt intimidating.

“I’ve been really trying to challenge my students, ‘Go use the welder,’” he said. “I want to empower them to feel like that they can do it. Also, just teaching all students simple but important skills like how to use a tape measure and how to do these concrete things that will affect other areas of their life, I’m excited about that and proud of that.”

Here are some of the wood-working and metal-working machines in the Spalding Makerspace:

Table saw: The SawStop saw has an electronic braking safety system that instantly stops the blade if anything other than wood comes close to it.

Planer: For smoothing and planing the rough edges off boards.

Band saw: To make rounded and precise cuts on boards.

Belt/disk/spindle sanders: Capable of smoothing all sizes and shapes of wood.

Drill press: For drilling precise holes or making circular cuts.

Knife grinder: For sanding and sharpening knives and blades.

Compound miter (or chop) saw: For making cross cuts with circular blades – useful in building picture frames.

Shaper: For making joinery and complex cuts.

A Spalding Creative Arts student cuts a piece of wood on a table saw
A student cuts a piece of wood on a table saw.

Lathe: For turning wood.

Welders and plasma cutter: For manipulating and cutting metal with intense heat and flames.

English wheel: For rounding sheets of metal.

Shrinker stretcher: For stretching or shrinking metal.

Throatless shear: For cutting metal on a curve.

Sand blaster: For smoothing metal.

Combination sheer/brake/roll: For cutting and rolling metal.

After a mural outside the entrance to Blue Lick Elementary School was recently vandalized, Spalding University art professor Skylar Smith and some student volunteers were there to lend a skilled helping hand.

Smith and students Kirsten Kircher,  Amelia Huneke and Sarah Reynolds, all of the Spalding studio art program, as well as students Carla Johnson (liberal studies major) and Aprile Parry (business administration major) volunteered on Sunday, April 22, to repair and repaint the mural, which was tagged up on Jan. 12 with expletives and graphic images in black spray paint.

School staff and parents pressure washed and painted over the offensive words and images immediately after they were discovered on the storage building next to the student drop-off area, but for the past three months, the mural, which depicts the friendly Blue Lick lion mascot next to the words “Blue Lick Pride,” was mostly ruined.

Kirchner, who specializes in painting, took on the task of redoing the smiling lion, and the others, working with Blue Lick Elementary students, parents and faculty, did touch-up and repair painting. The volunteers also painted the adjacent wall with the Blue Lick Elementary motto – “Be safe, be kind, be respectful, be responsible. Be your best and help the rest” – in bold blue-and-yellow letters.

“I only live 20 or 30 minutes out from here, so I feel like this is my community, too,” Kirchner said. “I want these kids to see something better (than the damaged mural) and have something to smile about.  … Knowing that they can come together and make something so beautiful and spark something within other students, that’s what artists love to do. We like to spark people and give them inspiration and make them feel like they can make a difference. Hopefully this kind of makes them believe in that.”

Johnson isn’t an artist, but she said she’s been a lifelong volunteer who always is looking for ways to help the community. She came to Blue Lick after seeing a Spalding campus email looking for volunteers.

It was the same for Parry, who brought along her two sons, ages 11 and 5. The younger boy went to Head Start at Blue Lick.

“I had a blast,” Johnson said. “The reason that we had to do this is bad, but overall everyone came together and corrected a wrong. … Everyone lends a hand. When someone’s struggling, you help them.”

Spalding got involved after Blue Lick Elementary Parent-Teacher Association President Erin Lush contacted Smith, who then began to organize student volunteers.

“I don’t think we could have had a better university come out to help our school community,” Lush said. “Spalding is one of the universities that prides itself on community outreach, and when they responded and, ‘Yes, we would love to help,’ it was a perfect fit. Skylar and all the Spalding students were engaged, polite, very talented. They stayed to get the job done, and it’s great. I can’t be more happy.”

Smith said she was proud that students volunteered their time to help repair a piece of public art, especially one that is such a point of pride to Blue Lick Elementary.

“I think it shows that our students want to be involved and that we have some students who are civic-minded and want to help out,” she said.

Extra thanks: Home Depot on Preston Highway and Sherwin-Williams Paint Store on Hurstbourne Lane donated paint supplies for the project, Lush said.

In the news: Here is the WHAS-11 story on the mural repair.

The Personal is Still Political art exhibit at Spalding’s Huff Gallery – a collection of political art by Skylar Smith and Lisa Simon that celebrates women’s marches and examines the challenges and stereotypes women have faced over history – will have its closing reception 1-3 p.m. Saturday, March 31.

The free exhibit has been on display throughout March, which is Women’s History Month, in the gallery in the lower level of the Spalding Library, 853 Library Lane.

Smith, a Spalding art professor, said the exhibit is a response to the 2016 presidential election and that she was inspired by last year’s Women’s March on Washington.

“It’s kind of clichéd, but to know where we’re going, we have to look at where we’ve been and know our history,” Smith said. “I’m fascinated by history and sometimes teach art history. Both of our work is looking back, but some of the things that happened a long time ago are still very relevant to where we are, and often it feels like we might be repeating history. It is just a celebration of what has been achieved for the women’s movement. I think the women’s movement is the most inclusive it’s ever been. In its current state, it’s unifying a lot of different backgrounds and agendas, but the common agenda is just equality and justice.”

In Smith’s portion of the exhibit, images from that march and others by women from history over suffrage and civil rights, are depicted and dispersed in eight brightly painted banners that are 9 to 11 feet long and hang from the ceiling of the gallery. Collectively, the installation resembles a march.

The banners pop with complementary colors – blues and oranges, yellows and purples – and Smith said she wanted the pieces to convey the solidarity and uplifting tone of the Women’s March.

Usually an abstract painter, Smith said it’s the first time since she was in college that she’s painted distinct human figures.

KyCAD professor Skylar Smith beside one of her long banner paintings for "Personal is Still Political"
Skylar Smith beside one of her paintings for “Personal is Still Political” at the Huff Gallery.

“It’s not been a prominent theme in my work,” Smith said, “but I just said, ‘Right now, I can’t make abstract paintings. I want to make art that speaks in obvious and literal ways to what’s going on.’

“The election happened, and I just thought, I need to make something that has a human form and represents a specific thing in a direct way.”

As for the more abstract, Smith’s work also includes six drawings hung on the wall that are inspired by the years in which countries allowed women to vote. The year of a particular country – 1920 for the United States, for instance – is drawn over and over again on handmade paper featuring the colors of the country’s flag.

Simon’s half of the exhibit is made up of numerous collages, hung on the wall, that feature portraits of women’s rights leaders as well as clippings of advertisements, news stories and other pop-culture imagery from over the decades that underscore the gender stereotypes and expectations that women faced.

Simon also has installed an array of stars with the names of significant women on a column in the middle of the gallery.

“Personal Is Still Political” is the third collaboration, including the second at the Huff Gallery, for Smith and Simon, who is also an art teacher. Their first joint exhibit at the Huff Gallery, called “With Child,” was about life for artists who have had children.

Smith and Simon are longtime friends who attended Ballard High School together.

“We’re on similar wave lengths with concepts, and our lives are similar in that we’re both artists and art teachers and moms,” Smith said. “It’s just easy to know where she is and what she cares about. … We think similarly but not always, so we challenge each other to keep making art and we’re cheerleaders for each other.”

The closing reception, which is a LEO Weekly Staff Pick for the weekend, features a Louisville Suffrage Walking Tour led by Marsha Weinstein. The walk will tour of sites near Spalding’s campus in which an event or meeting took place relating to the suffrage movement.

Personal is Still Political closing reception
Artists: Lisa Simon & Skylar Smith
When: 1-3 p.m., Saturday, March 31
Where: Huff Gallery, Spalding University Library, 853 Library Lane
Activities include: Louisville Suffrage Walking Tour led by Marsha Weinstein; and all-ages art–making activities, including “Make your own Nasty Woman Button” and “Make your own Suffrage Sash.” Suffrage tour starts at 2 p.m.

Various colorful collages, paintings and drawings, mostly of images of women, hanging on a white wall at the Huff Gallery
Some of artist Lisa Simon’s pieces from the Personal is Still Political exhibit at the Huff Gallery.