Up on Sugar Hill: How Children Inspired Two New Exhibitions on Power, Race and the Human Condition

Up on Sugar Hill:
How Children Inspired Two New Exhibitions on Power, Race and the Human Condition

Combine the skills of visual artists with the imagination of children and you just may end up with a roomful of golden crowns or found objects arranged in elaborate configurations. Such are the results to be found in two new exhibitions at the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art & Storytelling that each drew inspiration from children.

Visual artist, Shani Peters’ exhibition, The Crown Futures (co-curated by the Museum’s Lauren Kelley and Jennifer Ifil-Ryan) is the inaugural production of the Artist-Children’s Collaborative. The initiative is described by the Museum as a “…hands-on artmaking program, led by an artist, through which children play a lead role in the development and creation of a new art work or installation.”

For the project—on display through December 31—Peters worked with about 30 children (ages 5-13). During the three-month workshops the kids created 10 crown designs, resulting in nearly 400 golden crowns. They also discussed the history of such headdresses. Traditionally reserved for monarchs, crowns are subverted in the exhibition as Peters aims to highlight the Kwanzaa concept of self-determination. Here, those who wear the crowns are not “royalty” but everyday youth empowered by their own sense of self-worth and commitment to community building.

“In the workshops we talked about the history of crowns and that led us to talk about slavery, racial inequality and the concept of power,” said Peters. “I am regularly pleasantly surprised with the ability of young people to talk about difficult subjects. These kids know what’s going on. I hope we planted seeds in the minds of students so they continue these thoughts as they grow into adults.”

As the Museum’s first artist-in-residence, selected in partnership with The Laundromat project, David Shrobe conducted workshops, with the Sugar Hill Museum Preschool. During those programs children were directly involved in Shrobe’s creative process of traversing his local environment collecting found materials to be repurposed. The resulting work is on display through August 20 in the Museum’s new exhibition, Meta-Modes: New Work by David Shrobe, curated by Kelley.

“Through my process I began to incorporate some of the same recycled materials from workshops I led with the children and their families at the museum into my work,” he said. “It was important for me to draw materials from in and around Sugar Hill as a way to map that environment and community, but also to respond to the neighborhood's constant evolving social landscape.”   

The title of the show speaks to Shrobe’s complex approach of juxtaposing seemingly disparate elements from the worlds of metaphysics, science fiction, African mythology and Zen Buddhism as he unpacks racial stereotypes to explore the human condition. And as multi-layered as that may sound to digest, Shrobe finds his work to be a natural fit for children.

“The work I made naturally resonates with children of all ages,” he said. “I think it's because of the accessibility of my use of everyday objects such as doorknobs, school desks, magazine clippings, lotto tickets and holographic paper. These are things the kids see daily and can relate to. They seem to quickly pick up on the collision of various materials they know and want to touch, even if I have to remind them it's about looking. I think it also has to do with my use of mythological and cartoonish figures, and the use of collage as a medium, which children are innately drawn to.”


Up on Sugar Hill is a monthly blog post developed by the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art & Storytelling and written by Souleo. Each month features highlights from the museum’s exhibitions, public programs and/or blog.  

All Photos by Michael Palma Mir