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

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

Kris Kirchner reflects on his time at Spalding University as one of accomplishment, affirmation, service and personal growth.

The 2021 Spalding Creative Arts graduate and a three-year leader of the Sexuality and Gender Acceptance (SAGA) student organization said he is proud of how he has helped bring students together to find community and better understand LGBTQ issues.

Kirchner, who identifies as pansexual and transmasculine, said he also has been personally supported by Spalding faculty and staff and built meaningful friendships with classmates and others in the Louisville community.

“I was lucky to have so many friends, and the queer community, even outside of SAGA, is really amazing,” Kirchner said, adding that Spalding’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) center has supported him throughout his college journey. “Living on campus was great because I could kind of learn to be myself and have that space. I found a community of friends, and they helped me just let me be me.”

Kirchner said he has grown more confident in his art, including bringing more of himself and his identity into his work, as opposed to painting only exterior objects or scenes he observed in the world. His experience and emotions as a trans person were the subject of his senior thesis.

“It took me forever to get to a space where my interior thoughts were worthy of the gallery space,” he said, “and I got to create this work that I’m really happy about and that I really think is an interesting dialogue that people should hear about.”

CREATIVE ARTS  | BFA program overview

A mural that read "Change the World, Change One Mind" in the Spalding art studios
Kris Kirchner painted this mural in the hallway of the Creative Arts studio spaces in the south wing of Morrison Hall.

Kirchner served as the social media manager for SAGA. He made graphics and flyers and created the organization’s Instagram account – @SAGA_Spalding – as a way to raise its prominence and promote events. He also helped organize a SAGA informational event for any student on campus – including those who knew little about LGBTQ terminology or issues – in order to increase understanding and promote inclusiveness.

“I enjoyed being able to give back and create an environment where I made these cool friends,” Kirchner said. “SAGA allowed me to educate people. … I came from a town where not many people knew about LGBTQ issues, and I had to do all my own research. I was still learning when I came to college. Providing that (informational session) so that we could have better allies and have people understand (was rewarding).”

Kirchner’s involvement in SAGA led to him getting to know members of other Recognized Student Organizations across campus as well as non-Spalding organizations around Louisville. He said Spalding’s location in downtown Louisville made Pride and other LGBTQ events easily accessible.

SAGA was limited in its activity since spring 2020 due to the pandemic, but Kirchner encouraged underclassmen to step in to help organize events next school year when on-campus activities will be more prevalent. He said involvement in SAGA was an extremely valuable part of his college experience.

Kirchner was among the Creative Arts students who painted murals in the hallways of the student studio spaces in the south wing of Morrison Hall earlier this month. In Kirchner’s mural, the phrase “Change the world” is repeated over and over in black paint, with the phrase “Change one mind” written out in golden in the center.

He said changing the world by changing one mind at a time had been his goal with SAGA to increase understanding and acceptance.

“I hope I left a mark there,” he said.

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.

Faculty Focus Friday is a Q&A series that highlights individual faculty members in various academic programs around Spalding University. Today’s featured faculty member is Shawn Hennessey, Assistant Professor of 3D Art and Studio Technician for Spalding’s Creative Arts department (BFA in Studio Art program). He teaches courses and supervises Spalding’s new Makerspace, which features a range of woodworking, metalworking, 3D printing and laser-cutting equipment. Hennessey studied sculpture as an undergraduate at the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning, and he holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in painting and drawing from Ohio State University. Hennessey was an adjunct instructor at Spalding before joining the faculty full-time in 2019. Hennessey and his wife, Nora Christensen, run Squallis Puppeteers, a prominent nonprofit organization that builds puppets and does puppet shows across the community.

What do you like about working and teaching at Spalding?

Oh, my gosh, I love Spalding. Spalding is the school I wanted to teach at when I moved here to Louisville. The thing I liked about Spalding is that it wasn’t too big, wasn’t too small, wasn’t too exclusive, and I just always really loved the students. (As a Spalding adjunct,) I taught a lot of adult-accelerated classes, and I always had non-art majors, and they were just always great folks. I like the atmosphere here. I like the place. It didn’t take itself too seriously as a school. People were serious about learning, but it was unpretentious. The faculty has always been very friendly, and I just felt comfortable here.

What has been like to join the full-time faculty in the art department?

It’s a dream come true. It’s a job I always wanted. … (In an initial meeting with Program Director Deb Whistler), we really hit it off about some key things, primarily about the idea that art didn’t have to be about making things for galleries, or making things for rich people to buy. It could be, but it could also be about solving problems and interacting with the community and making your town or your world a little bit better place – that art has the power to do that. We both had this idea of how art functions. For me, that came from being a puppeteer for about 10 years at that point.

Spalding professor and student in the woodshop of the Spalding Makerspace
Assistant Professor Shawn Hennessey demonstrates a wood saw cut to student Sarah Thornsberry in the Spalding Makerspace.

What is your academic specialty or area of experience?

My art expertise is all over the place. Photography and print-making are the two things I haven’t done much of, but other than that, I’ve dabbled in pretty much everything. I’m totally a jack of all trades. My undergrad is in sculpture and 3D art. My grad is in painting and drawing. My graduate thesis show was mostly conceptual art; it was almost like graphic design murals. I was making weird books. Then I got more and more into conceptual art when I got out of graduate school. Because I hate going to gallery openings and things like that – it’s just not my bag – I stopped participating in the art world for a while. Then I met Nora and started doing puppet shows. The story I always tell is being on stage with My Morning Jacket in a puppet I finished that day in front of 9,000 people. I thought, “I’m spoiled now.” I really like the interactivity of puppetry. So I would say through Squallis, my focus in terms of being an artist is really on art and social practice, making art that is interactive and somewhat performative and that is collaborative. That’s where my heart lies. Academically, I’m very interested in art and music, and art and culture in general. I taught an art and music class, so a lot of what I taught wasn’t just about art-making or music-making. I would bring in television and being able to explain that “Flight of the Conchords” and Stephen Colbert are perfect ways to understand post-modernism. That would get my students’ attention. But while I was an adjunct teaching these classes, I would also be trying to make some extra money by remodeling people’s homes and building kitchens and bathrooms and getting really good at making stuff. So when this job came along – a combination of teaching two- and three-dimensional art and running a shop and studios – it was everything I’d always done. It’s working with tools, I always run the spaces at Squallis and keep them organized, and I’ve been teaching for 20 years. So it all fit together perfectly for me.

LEARN MORE | Spalding’s Creative Arts department and the BFA in Studio Art
MEET THE FACULTY | Spalding’s full slate of Creative Arts professors

What do you in your role as Studio Technician at Spalding?

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

I’m the manager of the Makerspace and studios. I manage this MakerSpace (in Mansion East), and I keep an eyeball on all the other spaces. If they need something, or if something needs fixed or set up, I take care of it. Like we’ve been setting up lots of new equipment and making sure spaces are safe and free of hazards, and I have been working really hard at making sure we are maximizing usage of our space. We’ve also been trying to open our spaces to be more collaborative. This (Mansion East) Makerspace is now a collaborative space that any faculty or staff can come through during open hours. We’re working with occupational therapy and other departments.

Why is Creative Arts at Spalding a good option for high school students looking to study art in college?

I think what sets Spalding’s art department apart – it’s in the name. Instead of calling ourselves “Fine Arts,” we call ourselves, “Creative Arts.” I feel like that opens it up a lot. Fine arts implies that you’re doing something that is so polished, and that is fine. You can still make gallery-style art. But to say it’s “Creative Arts,” that puts a focus on the creativity and the problem-solving part. We’re interested in teaching people how to use creativity as a tool. We want to train people to utilize their own creativity and expand and hone that. Students who come in may not know what they want to do. I think that’s what’s great about this program. You don’t have to pick. You don’t have to come into this program and say, “I’m a sculptor,” or “I’m a painter, or “I’m a ceramicist.” You can say, “I’m a creative person, but I’m not sure what I want to do.” And we will teach that person and sort of mold them, and (let them find a path.) Who knows what these students will do, but we’re going to set them up to use the skills.

How do you summarize the new equipment in this Makerspace as a resource for students?

Oh, man, we are so lucky. We’ve gotten a lot of great tools. We have this great confluence of high and low tech. So have all of the low-tech tools – a drill press and a band saw – things that most wood shops have. We have all these low-tech options, people can still work with their hands. I still teach my students how to make boxes and measure with a tape-measure and things like that. We also have all these high-tech things like a laser cutter and a plasma cutter. There are all these opportunities 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.

What is an interesting thing that you keep in your office?

I have a puppet show in my office. You could say I have a time machine in my office. It doesn’t work. (Laughs.)

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

Working with students, working with young people. But really just working with all different kinds of people – so the faculty, too. It’s no fun to be in a vacuum, especially as an artist. That was the thing I really hated about the presumed life of an artist. When you come up in the art world, you’re made to think you have to work in your studio, head down, make stuff, and that’s the life of an artist. I found that to be very miserable. I wanted to be around other people, and I wanted to make stuff with other people and help other people make stuff. When people come to me and say, “I want to make this thing,” I say, “Great, let’s talk about it! What does it have to do? How do you see it?” That’s really exciting to me.

At Spalding, we like to say, “Today is a great day to change the world.” How do you think your role at Spalding is helping you to change the world or helping your students to change the world?

One things I’m really proud of is I’m empowering people to use tools, particularly young women. A lot of our art students are women. When I started teaching here, very few of the young women I had in classes would go near the tools.  I’ve been really trying to challenge my students: “Go use the welder.” 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.

READ MORE | Faculty Focus Friday archives

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.