Call for Artists: As Big as We Make It! Contemporary Artists in Conversation with the Harlem Renaissance

Logo for Call for ArtistsThe Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library at the University of Virginia is excited to announce a call for artists to submit proposals for large-scale artwork to be created in conversation with poems highlighted in a forthcoming exhibition, Their World As Big As They Made It: Looking Back at the Harlem Renaissance. This exhibition celebrates the centennial of the Harlem Renaissance and the collection strengths of the Small Special Collections Library—which chronicles the inspiring work and lives of several prominent Harlem Renaissance literary creatives—through contemporary visual art that will be featured in our central exhibition space on Grounds. Selected art will be prominently featured in the exhibition gallery from September 13, 2023 to June 22, 2024.

The prompt for this proposal revolves around the selection of one poem from the following list:

Artists should articulate a brief, broad vision (approximately 150-200 words) for a work that would explore, connect to, or respond to their poem of choice. The final commissioned work should be an original work of visual art (such as a painting, drawing, photograph, sculpture, or film/video) created specifically for this project. Ideal dimensions for visual art are between 24”x30” and 70”x90”.

Submissions should also include a brief artist biography and a link to a portfolio (e.g. artist website, etc). There is no application fee to submit proposals for this project. Financial support for framing and printing works, if needed, will be available for the selected proposals.

Submit your proposal here:


  • The deadline to submit a proposal is July 12, 2023.
  • Proposals will be reviewed by a jury organized by New City Arts Initiative, and five artists will be selected to receive a $2,000 award and notified by July 19, 2023.
  • Final commissioned pieces will be due August 31, 2023.
  • The artworks will be featured in the main exhibition gallery of the Small Special Collections Library from September 13, 2023 to June 22, 2024.


  • The artist should be located in central Virginia and currently living and/or working in Charlottesville or one of the following counties: Albemarle, Nelson, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa, Orange, Madison, or Culpeper.
  • University of Virginia students, staff, faculty, and alumni located anywhere are welcome to apply.
  • Artists at any stage of their careers (including students, amateurs, and professionals) are welcome to submit a proposal for this project.
  • Individuals whose lived experiences are reflected in the poems by Black Harlem Renaissance creatives to be highlighted in this exhibition are especially encouraged to submit proposals.

Our Selection Committee:

Tamika L. Carey is an award-winning interdisciplinary scholar and teacher. Through her research on rhetoric, literacy, and writing, she examines methods and uncovers assumptions about emotional wellness, social belonging, and activism within Black communities. She is the author of Rhetorical Healing: The Reeducation of Contemporary Black Womanhood (SUNY 2016), a suite of scholarly essays on Black women’s activism and media, and an inspirational memoir about her life. She is currently an Associate Professor of English and a Faculty Affiliate in the Department of Women, Gender, and Sexuality at the University of Virginia.


Head shot of MaKshyaTolbertMaKshya Tolbert is a poet, cook, and artist who just found her way back to Virginia. Her poems and essays have been published in Interim, Narrative Magazine, Emergence Magazine, Tupelo Quarterly, Art Papers, The Night Heron Barks, Ran Off with the Star Bassoon, For the Culture, Earth in Color, Odd Apples, Queer Poem-a-Day, RHINO Poetry, and Earth in Color. MaKshya is currently based on unceded Monacan and Manahoac land in Charlottesville, Virginia, where she is a third-year MFA student at the University of Virginia. MaKshya serves on the Charlottesville Tree Commission and is a 2022-23 Lead to Life Curatorial Fellow. In her free time, she is elsewhere— what Eddie S. Glaude, Jr. calls ‘that physical or metaphorical place that affords the space to breathe.’

Maurice Wallace is a professor of English at Rutgers University-New Brunswick. He is co-editor with Shawn Michelle Smith of Pictures and Progress: Early Photography and the Making of African American Identity and, most recently, author of King’s Vibrato: Blackness, Modernism and the Sonic Life of Martin Luther King Jr.


Logo for UVA Arts Council

We are grateful to the Arts Council at the University of Virginia for a grant in support of
As Big As We Make It! Contemporary Artists in Conversation with the Harlem Renaissance.”




Dakota Goes Digital: Dakota Linguistics Live on from Oral Tradition to App

Simple side-sewn binding with title, "Dakota language Roman Catholic Catechism / Circa 1920"

A newly acquired Roman Catholic catechism in Dakota preserves the Dakota language (MSS 16778)

Logo for the app

A new online dictionary teaches the next generation to speak Dakota.

This post is by Ellen Welch, Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Manuscript and Archives processor, about a recent acquisition of a Roman Catholic Catechism (MSS 16778), translated in the Dakota language around 1920. It is not known who translated this document, but earlier Christian documents like this one were often translated by missionaries attempting to use the Dakota language to convert Indigenous people to Christianity. They soon learned that the Dakota beliefs would not translate easily to English and Christianity. Instead, these translations have helped to preserve the Dakota language.

The Dakota peoples tribal/rightful lands cover area from present day Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and parts of Canada. They form the Oceti Ŝakowiŋ, the Seven Council Fires which are divisions of the Sioux. Unfortunately, most missionaries and Christian Indigenous residential schools forbade the Dakota people from speaking their language, to the extent of trying to erase their culture and almost making the Dakota language extinct. These translations give us an opportunity to explore the Dakota language and celebrate the culture of the Dakota people.

In addition to these documents, there is now a digital app “Dakhód Iápi Wičhóie Wówapi” from researchers at the University of Minnesota that teaches the Dakota language to online users, particularly the next generation. It is ironic that the missionaries translated the oral Dakota language for the purpose of promoting Christianity—but in the end, it is the beauty of the Dakota language that survives in this archival object. Today, having these historic documents written in the Dakota language—and modern-day online tools to read and speak the Dakota language—gives new life to an important Indigenous community and promotes acceptance and respect for diverse cultures.

Catechism open to page 19 to show example text

Translations of Christian documents into the Dakota language were used to convert people to Christianity. Today they keep the Dakota language alive.

Early missionaries, interpreters, and linguists lived with the Dakota people and studied their oral language (1). In 1834, they began recording and deciphering the Dakota words phonetically and created an alphabet (2). After printing the Holy Bible in Dakota, called Dakota Wowapi Wakan, they produced several reading books, a catechism, a monthly Dakota newspaper, the Book of Genesis, the Gospel of Mark, and by 1865, the New Testament. Their Christian work included studying the Dakota language to identify the meanings of God, religion, and power. The linguists found that these words might seem to have the same meaning on a superficial level, but on closer study, it became clear that the meanings of these words in Dakota were more complex and had different meanings (1).

The Dakota alphabet

Harvard postdoctoral College Fellow Gili L. Kliger agrees that the missionaries encountered a range of Indigenous concepts that resisted translation into English. She writes, “It was not just that Wakantanka [great spirit] did not mean “God,” but that the translations exposed the limits of the English language. Wakan has a general meaning of “holy” or “spirit” with no straightforward equivalent in English.” (3) Stephen Riggs, a nineteenth century Christian missionary, also wrote, “The words for “salvation” and “life,” and even “death” and “sin,” did not mean what they did in English.” (4)

Missionaries forced Christianity on Indigenous people while the American government silenced their language, and removed their culture, land, and homes. Yet they were the people whose religions showed respect for other life forms. “Respect and humility are the building blocks of Indigenous lifeways, since they not only lead to minimal exploitation of other living creatures but also preclude the arrogance of aggressive missionary activity and secular imperialism, as well as the arrogance of patriarchy” (5).

Americans have learned so much from Indigenous people. Their languages are sophisticated, and they have deeply spiritual cultures. They have influenced many aspects of American life through agriculture, a federal system of government, over 2,000 words of their language, women’s rights and matriarchal power structures, bravery, and heroic prowess, to name a few. The framework of government in the Iroquois Confederacy is said to have inspired Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and other founders as they wrote the United States Constitution (6).

Moving forward to present day influences, Joe Bendickson, named Šišókadúta (meaning robin red), is a linguistics director (and “keeper of language”) at the University of Minnesota and is teaching Dakota to the students. He agrees that English is unable to fully express meanings of certain Dakota words, especially words describing the spiritual plane. For example, “Wakháŋ Tháŋka’ means something inexplicable and mysterious, and it refers to spiritual concepts such as God.” (7) Šišókadúta grew up without the Dakota language and culture because in the 1950’s, Christian Indigenous residential schools punished and shamed people for speaking it. Three of his grandparents spoke the language fluently. Šišókadúta has been heartened to see more Dakota students interested in learning the language.

Joe Bendickson, named Šišókadúta, is a linguistics director (and “keeper of language”) at the University of Minnesota.

In 2017, Šišókadúta—with help from the nonprofit Dakhóta Iápi Okhódakičhiye (Dakota language for the home, community, and classroom), the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council, and The Language Conservancy—has created the first comprehensive Dakota-language dictionary app. The free app, Dakhód Iápi Wičhóie Wówapi, is meant to bridge the gap between the handful of Dakota speakers left (80- and 90-year-olds) and the younger generation. Wil Meya, of The Language Conservancy said, “We sometimes hear young people say the apps are like having grandma or grandpa in their pocket. And often it is their grandma or grandpa on the app, providing the voice.”

Šišókadúta adds, “The dictionary app itself is just a tool for learning the language, but it’s part of a larger effort to revitalize the language and even create future generations of first language speakers.” (8)

Advertisement for the app

Digital app for the Dakota language

Ava Hartwell, named Oglala Lakota, is one of Šišókadúta’s students. The sixteen-year-old says, “Learning the Dakota language comes with learning the Dakota mindset and ways of our people.” It’s much easier than using the outdated dictionaries that already exist. The last substantive dictionary was published by missionaries in 1852. For Šišókadúta, “it was to learn this language and help bring it back. Revitalize it, grow it. It’s a way to reverse history.” The Dakota language and culture is expressed beautifully. For example, the word trust is wowinape, which means “put one’s hand in another.” The worldview of the Dakota language can be expressed in “mitákuye owás’iŋ,” which means “all are related.” (7) Dakota means “ally” or “friend.” Today, Dakota, which started out as an oral language, goes digital for future generations.

For the atrocities committed by the United States Government against Indigenous people and inspired by the government’s decision to build a pipeline through their land in 2016, veterans came together at Standing Rock Reservation, to ask forgiveness from the Sioux. In gratitude for their language and the positive influences on American culture, organizer Wesley Clark Jr. and other veterans apologized to Leonard Crow Dog and other Sioux leaders:

“We came. We fought you. We took your land. We signed treaties that we broke. We stole minerals from your sacred hills. We blasted the faces of our presidents on your sacred mountain. And then we took still more land. And then we took your children. And then we tried to take your language. We tried to eliminate your language that God gave you and the Creator gave you. We didn’t respect you. We polluted your earth. We’ve hurt you in so many ways. And we have come to say that we are sorry. We are at your service, and we beg for your forgiveness.” (9)

As Amy Gantt, Assistant Professor of Art and Native Studies, at Southeastern Oklahoma State University writes, “Revitalizing the languages is a step toward healing the historical trauma and ensuring survival as a people.” (10) James Mackenzie, University of Arizona Department of Teaching, Learning & Sociocultural Studies, adds, “By having connection to their Indigenous languages, people better understand who they are, which can promote better health. This only affirms an understanding long shared by our elders and ceremonial practitioners: language is medicine. In this sense our languages can literally heal us.” (11)


1. Missionaries and linguists mentioned are Gideon Pond (1810-1878) (Matohota-grizzly bear), his brother, Samuel Pond (1808-1891), (Wanmdiduta-the red eagle), Dr. Thomas S. Williamson (1800-1879), Stephen Return Riggs (1812-1883), Joseph Renville (1779-1846-a son of a Dakota woman), and Samuel Dutton Himnan (1839-1890). The Manga Writer. Dakota Love. “The History of the Dakota Bible (Dakota Wowapi Wakan).” The ForwardsBackwards Blog. June 26, 2019. 

2. Riggs, Stephen. “The Minnesota Constitution in the Language of the Dakota.” Translated by Steven Riggs. (1858)

3. Kliger, Gili. “Translating God on the Borders of Sovereignty.American Historical Review. Volume 127. Issue 3. September 2022.

4. Riggs, Steven, R. “Mary and I: Forty Years with the Sioux.” Chicago. W. G. Holmes. March 1889.

5. Forbes, Jack, D. “Indigenous Americans: Spirituality and Ecos.” Daedulus. Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Fall 2001.

6. Cavallari, Dan. “How Has American Culture Been Influenced by Native American Culture?” United States Now. April 23, 2023.

7. Forgrave, Reid. “Joe Bendickson Šišókadúta.” Star Tribune February 25, 2023.

8. “New Dakota Language App Helps Bridge GapMinnesota Reformer. March 12, 2023.

9. Veterans Ask for Forgiveness at Standing Rock

10. Gantt, Amy M. “Native Language Revitalization: Keeping the
Languages Alive and Thriving” Southeastern Oklahoma State University

11. Mackenzie, James. “Addressing Historical Trauma and Healing in Indigenous Language Cultivation and Revitalization.” Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 1–7. doi:10.1017/S0267190521000167 Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 February 2022.