Grantee Partner Spotlight: Garvey Tubman Cultural Arts and Research Center

GTCARC we teach the arts

By Mark Hallett, Director of Grants Programs

Read Time 9 minutes
April 15, 2024

Since 2016, the Garvey Tubman Cultural Arts and Research Center (GTCARC) has been committed to providing services of interest in the African American community, sharing a viable support system that speaks to the community’s educational, emotional, and cultural needs by providing high-quality, child-friendly, and relevant subject matter.

The Garvey Tubman Cultural Arts and Research Center (GTCARC) received an Illinois Humanities Action Grant to support their Black Artists Matter Month extravaganza. Activities included, artists' showcases, family-friendly art activities, an event featuring local jazz musicians, and the publication of their Black Artists Matter magazine.

Black Artists Matter Month

  • GTCARC BAMM Magazine
  • GTCARC BAMM Poetry Poster
  • GTCARC BAMM Visual Arts Presentation
  • GTCARC BAMM Artist Poster
  • Black History month Curated Art Lamp Shade Showcase

    Black History Month curated art lamp shade showcase

Read more about the community the GTCARC serves and how Shatriya Smith came to serve the community and head the GTCARC in this interview.

A Q&A with Shatriya Smith

Executive Director of the Garvey Tubman Cultural Arts and Research Center (GTCARC)

My understanding is that in some ways you were an ‘accidental’ executive director – the opportunity arose, and you offered to step into it and take the reins. More than four years into the role now, how is being an executive director different from how you imagined it? And how does having a background in the arts and poetry in particular help you step into that leadership role?

I was first introduced to the idea of becoming an executive director by the leadership and founders of the GTCARC. I had been doing volunteer teaching support, with the caveat that I had to bring my own supplies and craft my educational learning plan to assist students with poetry and fun activities. I got a sponsor to assist with materials to help make sure my activities with the students were a success. 

After two years of consistent support, they saw my passion for positive outcomes. With that, John T. Crisp, Jr. and Charles Scott brought to my attention their vision of putting me in this position. It took some cajoling as I had never envisioned myself in such a role.

GTCARC Shatriya Smith

Shatriya Smith, poet and civic engagement leader

The two mentors made compelling statements, but it took some time for me to agree. 

Charles Tripplet said, "The road is paved, the bus fare is paid... It's time to get on the bus.” 

Charles Scott said, "Just do 5 things on the itinerary for the executive director and then move on to the next." Now I am doing 25 things and learning more as I grow. I have been an executive director for 5 years and I have learned so much. Nevertheless, I bring with me an ample amount of customer service skills from many years of working with the public. Including empathetic leadership skills from working with students who have developmental differences for 11 years.

I have been blessed to be born into a creative and artistic family from music to visual arts. Organizing is an art in itself to compile and maintain controlled chaos in the heights of a busy and everchanging landscape, like events and program activities (a precarious dance of many moving pieces) by having an advantage of seeing the behind-the-scenes actions and duties of others. As I've grown into these spaces, I can reference back to many experiences from the past. My grandmother Ernestine (Teena) Nicks was integral in supporting the Blacks, Whites, and Blues Festivals in Springfield, IL, and had several businesses under her leadership. My father was a D.J. and martial arts instructor. My Uncle was a visual artist but had many complications after the Vietnam War. My grandmother on my mom’s side, Luella Logan, had 11 children and she organized all of them to work the fields in Mississippi but also saved finances and was able to afford many of her children to go to college on a third-grade education, which taught me that lack of education does not equate to lack of ability.

Considering your own background as a published poet, and that April is National Poetry Month, how would you describe the importance that poetry has in reaching and engaging with young people?

My grandmother Teena introduced me to poetry through Paul Lawrence Dunbar as a teen, at a time when I was having difficulty with reading. Having undiagnosed dyslexia and not understanding that while we may have many similarities we also have many differences. 

My grandmother gave me an enlightened view of other forms of communication and imagination through creative writing. 

It was critical for me because it bolstered my resolve to learn and lean into poetry and poetic stanzas from many different backgrounds. Enhancing my thrust for reading by sharing similar stories of my environment and family dynamics that I was not receiving from my education. For instance, my family might speak in hushed tones around sorrowful or hard conversations; these poems screamed compassion and understanding while overcoming similar odds. I think this is the same for young people of today, thirsty for some semblance of understanding, compassion, and creativity that can be rhythmic and melodic.

How would you describe the Springfield community you work in? And what sorts of evidence do you see of the impact of your programs in that community? 

This is a very impactful question, as I have had many generations of family that I would listen to, always being indebted to listening and asking questions. 

Paying close attention to the storytelling of the older days of Springfield. The Emancipation Proclamation, the Great Migration, the opportunities for Black businesses, work, and prosperity in comparison to the fields and hardships of sharecropping. I see a timespan of growth and depreciation.

Currently, we are in a space that is emaciated with the words and works of much-needed investments. The desegregation without assimilation. They say they want for us to grow but the barriers are fraught with details that make it difficult and classist. The community that I speak of that used to house most of the Black population is now empty lots, boarded up or burnt-up homes, business blight, and a food desert. There are no gas stations and large box businesses only preside outside of its areas. 

Where once this was a thriving community the lack of jobs has showcased the socio-economic divide in a noticeable display.

While I don’t think this is unique, it is reminiscent of a vision or declaration of dismantling Black and low-income communities for a long-term goal of reconstruction of spaces. The unethical historical understanding of Black inferiority, despite examples of the falsity of this inferiority through the existence of entities like Black Wall Street, or the hatred of Black prosperity in many communities has been showcased as a 100-year-goal to discourage and rearrange the power structure of said communities.

On the evidence of our organization in the community, I can only say this: Programs like those offered by GTCARC and the Springfield Urban League are supportive because I am a representative of the outcome of a program called the ARP (Adolescent Responsibility Program) offered by the Springfield Urban League, under Doris Chambers. Her tutelage and leadership have provided Springfield with many members doing great things in the community.

Sharing and supporting local youth programs such as the ones offered by the GTCARC assist in bringing the imagination, effort, and continuity of growth by these young individuals to provide their future with engagements not easily acquired in most situations offered to low-income families, by offering them developmental tools, communication tools, and creative access to training not offered by the educational community in Springfield. 

Anything else you’d like to add?

Learning at a deficit is something we need to recognize for many community members who are trying new avenues of leadership and may not be particularly prepared for all the nuances of running an organization/business. I recognize that in my duties I have a difficult time finding the support of effort and manpower to do this work. Burnout is a real and consistent issue in the nonprofit field, compassionate compensation is not always on par with the mental, physical, and emotional strain, time, and effort that is put on the leaders/staff/volunteers. Finding a team that is willing to get on the board and support the mission is difficult in these times, especially for those who are contending with excessive financial obligations like shelter, food, and gas.

Shatriya Smith's Suggested Readings:

I really wish I had more time to read. Nevertheless, I have two books open, Michelle Obama's The Light We Carry: Overcoming in Uncertain Times and Dune by Frank Herbert. 

I leaf through local and historic poetry often. 

In addition, I am absolutely mesmerized by Terrence Howard's, actor and scientist, thesis on the language of logic and frequency rhythms theoretical recognition called Terryology. 

All the while doing my best to learn more about organizing and prolonging a non-profit community organization. 

Michele Obama Book Cover

About the Garvey Tubman Cultural Arts and Research Center (GTCARC)

Incorporated as a 501c3 in 2013, the Garvey Tubman Cultural Arts and Research Center (GTCARC) was founded by artist and musician John Crisp, Jr. and former Springfield patrol officer Charles Scott. Having both grown up on the east side of Springfield under segregation, they wanted to create a space for the next generation of African American children to experience a support system that speaks to their educational, emotional, and cultural needs. These two leaders continue to mentor and shape future generations to follow their passions and reach their goals.

Since 2016, the Garvey Tubman Cultural Arts and Research Center (GTCARC) has been committed to providing services of interest in the African American community, sharing a viable support system that speaks to the community’s educational, emotional, and cultural needs by providing high-quality, child-friendly, and relevant subject matter.

Among other programs and services, the GTCARC offers instruction with professional artists, music classes that assist in supporting emerging artists’ minds, and opportunities for students ages 5 - 13. The GTCARC empowers creativity, showcases older and emerging artists, and prepares newer artists for marketing and sales. 

Follow the GTCARC on Facebook.

About the Grantee Partner Spotlight Series

Illinois Humanities highlights the work of our Grants partners through our monthly Grantee Partner Spotlight. It shines a light on our grantee partners' work and allows readers to get to know them better through a Q&A with members of the organization. Read more by browsing the "Grantee Partner Spotlight" series here.