Bessie Smith Cultural Center of Chattanooga

  Currently Showing:  Exhibits

Bright Ideas: African American Inventors

February 27th, 2014 by bsccadmin
The Bessie Smith Cultural Center is pleased to present “Bright Ideas: African American Inventors” in the museum galleries March 10 – June 14, 2014. Curated by John Edwards of the Mary Walker Foundation, “Bright Ideas: African American Inventors” is an exhibition that aims to highlight the contributions of African American inventors and enlighten and empower others, through knowledge and understanding of these inventors and their extraordinary accomplishments. The exhibit, made up of both panels and artifacts, features inventions that are part of everyday American life from Garret A. Morgan’s traffic light to Alfred C. Black’s ice cream scooper to the infamous super-soaker patented by Lonnie Johnson. The exhibition will showcase the offerings that African Americans have made to inventions that have contributed to the fields of aerospace, health care, communication, science, engineering, agriculture and transportation.
***Extended through August 30, 2014***

“Pictures Tell the Story’’ – The Work of Dr. Ernest C. Withers

October 3rd, 2013 by bsccadmin

From the 1940s to 1970s, Dr. Ernest C. Withers was the primary visual chronicler of the parallel society blacks occupied below the Mason-Dixon line Working for largely black newspapers like the Tri-State Defender and Amsterdam News, Withers shot an estimated 5 million exposures of a changing South and the people who shaped those changes. Withers’ works are highly respected internationally and have been featured in many books and publications.

He documented the dusty ball fields of the Negro Diamond Baseball League and the popular athletes prevented from playing in the all-white majors. He photographed the roadhouses and ballrooms where  Howling Wolf, Tina Tuner and Elvis were making music that would revolutionize society by bringing black and white kids together.

The remarkable arc of Withers’  career will be on view at the Bessie Smith Cultural Center through 60 images that will remind viewers of stories that should be remembered but have too often been forgotten. The exhibit will be housed in the museum gallery November 1, 2013 – March 1, 2014. photo credit: Ernest Withers, I Am a Man, 1968


This exhibit  was made possible with support from Commissioner Warren Mackey – Hamilton County

The Fair Game Project

April 16th, 2013 by bsccadmin
The Bessie Smith Cultural Center is pleased to welcome back Shanequa Gay for her solo exhibition “The Fair Game Project”. The Fair Game Project will be on display in the museum galleries June 7 – August 30, 2013.

The Fair Game Project is beginning the never-ending conversation of what Shanequa Gay sees happening to the African American Male population. From crime, disease, education, family, economic wealth disparities, poverty, homelessness, voter suppression, oppression, the prison system, unjustified arrests, murders and genocide.

What really pushed me over the edge to move forward with this project was the blood shed in Chicago, the deplorable graduation rates, and the Bobby Tillman, Trayvon Martin, Robert Champion, Ariston Waiters, and Troy Davis cases to name a few.

These and many more issues are plagues within the black community and are becoming like regular every day news, the reporting of a black male being murdered or going to prison is commonplace, people are unmoved, not shaken, not stirred by the damage that is being done.

Fair Game is inspired by my belief that African American men are being hunted like game and are an endangered species, it seems as though everything and everyone in this world is trying to annihilate this being including the black male through self inflicted genocide.

The purpose of The Fair Game Project is to bring these and many other issues to the forefront in order to for us to question what is happening, to respond, to act, and hopefully make moves toward change.

For All The World To See: Visual Culture and The Struggle for Civil Rights

April 2nd, 2013 by bsccadmin

For All The World To See: Visual Culture and The Struggle for Civil Rights is a National Endowment for the Humanities traveling exhibition that will be on display in the museum galleries September 3, 2013 – October 19, 2013.

“…we had averted our eyes for far too long, turning away from the ugly reality facing us as a nation. Let the world see what I’ve seen.” – Mamie Till Bradley
For All The World To See: Visual Culture and The Struggle for Civil Rights examines the role that visual culture played in shaping and transforming the struggle for racial equality in America from the late 1940s to the mid-1970s.

In September 1955, shortly after fourteen-year-old Emmett Till was murdered by white supremacists in Mississippi, his grieving mother, Mamie Till Bradley, distributed to newspapers and magazines a gruesome black-and-white photograph of his mutilated corpse. The mainstream media rejected the photograph as inappropriate for publication, but Bradley was able to turn to African-American periodicals for support. Asked why she would do this, Bradley explained that by witnessing, with their own eyes, the brutality of segregation, Americans would be more likely to support the cause of civil rights.
Through a compelling assortment of photographs, television clips, art posters, and historic artifacts, For All the World to See traces how images and media disseminated to the American public transformed the modern civil rights movement and jolted Americans, both black and white, out of a state of denial or complacency.
Visitors to this exhibition will explore dozens of compelling and persuasive visual images, including photographs from influential magazines, such as LIFE, JET, and EBONY; CBS news footage; and TV clips from The Ed Sullivan Show. Also included are civil rights-era objects that exemplify the range of negative and positive imagery—from Aunt Jemima syrup dispensers and 1930s produce advertisements to Jackie Robinson baseball ephemera and 1960s children’s toys with African American portraiture. For All The World To See is not a history of the civil rights movement, but rather an exploration of the vast number of potent images that influenced how Americans perceived race and the struggle for equality. As EBONY founder John H. Johnson put it, magazines and television “opened new windows in the mind and brought us face to face with the multicolored possibilities of man and woman.”

For All The World To See is curated by Dr. Maurice Berger, Research Professor, The Center for Art, Design, and Visual Culture, University of Maryland, Baltimore. It is co-organized by The Center for Art, Design, and Visual Culture and the National Museum of African-American History and Culture, Smithsonian Institution.

Photo Credit:

Emory Douglas
We Shall Survive without a Doubt, 1971
Photo-silkscreen on paper
15 1/2 x 11 in.
©2010 Emory Douglas/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

The Bessie Smith Cultural Center is a funded agency of ArtsBuild.


Swan Dreams Project: The Power of Imagery

February 14th, 2013 by bsccadmin

Swan Dreams Project: The Power of Imagery (SDP) is an exhibition that will be at the Bessie Smith Cultural Center March 1, 2013 through June 3, 2013. It is no secret that every major ballet company has a pronounced lack of African-American dancers, from the corps to the principals. As a result, African-American patronage to the ballet is conspicuously lacking. Barriers to entry, such as the cost of classes/attire, and stereotypes regarding classical ballet imagery, has left an entire population deprived of the enrichment of ballet. Ballerina Aesha Ash started the SDP to make the language and imagery of ballet more accessible to the African-American community through the exhibition. “Swan Dreams Project: The Power of Imagery” and increasing minority participation in ballet through exposure and training. Ash has been a professional ballet dancer for 13 years. She Joined the New York City Ballet at the age of 18, where she remained for eight years dancing numerous soloist and principal roles. Ash then joined the legendary Bejart Ballet, in Lausanne Switzerland, as a soloist. After enjoying success in Europe, she returned to the United states in 2005 where joined Alonzo King’s Lines Ballet. After a tremendous amount of growth and learning, Ash went freelance. She began working with Morphoses ,founded by Christopher Wheeldon. Ash has been featured in Dance Magazine, Pointe Magazine, the New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle, to name a few. You will find Ash featured in the New York City Ballet Workout II, Barbie Nutcracker, as well the principal dance double for Zoe Saldana in the movie Center Stage.

Aesha Ash, Artist Statement:

My mission as a ballet dancer and in life was not only to demonstrate excellence in my beloved genre, but to conquer stereotypes, overcome labels and low expectations, as well as inspire young girls from neighborhoods like mine who are too often unacquainted with the high arts, and lack the inspiration to live up to their fullest untapped potential. This project is inspired by my experiences with doubt isolation, self-awareness, inner-resolve and perseverance, and is not only a cathartic expression, but encouragement to those chasing their dreams in sometimes cruel and unfamiliar places. The message is simple: There is hope, never give up! This project is a continuation of the mantra I carried throughout my career and sought to embody in every performance.

My hope is that this project is more than a collection of photographs. I want the message and the imagery to inspire, motivate and change consciousness regarding the potential of all young women to be beautiful, artistic and awe-inspiring. I wanted to portray elegance, sensitivity, vulnerability and artistic purity not commonly associated with many of the project’s backdrops. I chose these backdrops not to shock, but to shout the refrain that there is art and beauty to be found in all places. I hope this modest undertaking will provoke thought, inspire hope and be a catalyst for positive change.

Never stop dreaming!

About the photographer:

Paul D. Van Hoy II began his business at the age of sixteen in his Midwestern hometown of Evansville, Indiana. A native Hoosier, Van Hoy relocated his business to Western, NY in 2005, after being accepted into the prestigious graduate program at the Rochester Institute of Technology, where, in 2007, he earned his MFA in Fine Art Photography.

Also, in 2007, Van Hoy received worldwide recognition as Microsoft’s “Photographer of The Year,” and just 12-months later, in 2008, Creative Quarterly Magazine awarded Van Hoy the accolade of “Photographer of The Year.”

His award winning wedding photojournalism has been featured in popular magazines such as Brides and Bridal Magazine, Wedding Style, In Style Wedding, Modern Bride, and Martha Stewart Weddings.

His poignant and compelling fine art photography has been widely published in the US and abroad; PDN, Digital Photo Pro, After Capture, Professional Photographer, CMYK, Camera Arts, and Communication Arts.

Van Hoy takes a very delicate and personal approach to apprehending decisive moments when documenting weddings, and describes his style as a mixture of disciplines that combine formalism and fine art aesthetics with an inborn photojournalistic intuition.

“Interaction with strangers through an image capture device changes the dynamic of an already ambivalent relationship. It is crucial that the photographer be improvisational not only on a technical level, but his or her spontaneity should also extend to the persuasions necessary to gain the momentary trust of a desired subject.”

Presently, Van Hoy resides in Rochester, NY where his destination wedding photography business, Fotoimpressions, is located. He documents approximately 30-40 weddings throughout the US annually and shoots advertising, stock, and travel photography during his off-season.

Some of his former and current clients include Forbes, Health and Wellness Magazine, Men’s Health Magazine, Food & Wine Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens, Country Living, Adidas, Barilla, DKNY, Jones New York and Fossil Inc., among others.

Van Hoy recently published his first book on wedding photography, “Wedding Photojournalism The Business of Aesthetics” which was released by Amherst Media in March of 2011 and is available at all major booksellers.

His works are managed & represented by AGE Fotostock in Barcelona Spain. His work can also be viewed on-line at

This exhibition  is made possible with funds provided by The Chattanooga Chapter of The Links, Inc. and funding from a Community Cultural Connections Grant through ArtsBuild Chattanooga.

Photo credit: Hidden Gems, Untitled I, Paul D. Van Hoy II,

Museum Hours

Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Saturday, Noon to 4 p.m.
Sunday, Closed

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