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.”




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *