Smalls joins the International African American Museum (IAAM) after five years of service with the Penn Center National Landmark District as Director of History, Art and Culture, Director of Development and Public Relations from 2012’ through 2017’. While leaving Penn leaves her a bit nostalgic she describes joining IAAM as a logical step in continuing her life’s legacy to promote the Gullah Geechee culture. “As African Americans many of us have lost a connection to our African ancestry, and to join an organization that will reconnect us to our ancestors excites me beyond words. To help build a museum at the very site where many of our enslaved ancestors took their first steps on American soil, where they built a nation that did not value or recognize them as human beings humbles me. The International African American Museum will honor the sacrifice, the legacy of our people and will serve as a sacred place of pilgrimage for all.”
A native of St. Helena Island, South Carolina, the Cultural Preservationist describes her experience and education as the building steps and doorway to her lifelong pursuit of promoting Sea Island, Gullah Geechee and African American culture to a global audience. With a family history dating back to pre- civil war era, her life is intrinsically rooted in Gullah Geechee history, art and culture. Her father, Elting B. Smalls a 1943 graduate of Penn School (the first school in the South to educate formerly enslaved West Africans) married her mother, Laura Markovich after meeting her at a Bahá’í Faith conference in the 1960s. The couple became the island’s first interracial couple. Smalls attributes her commitment to the promotion and exploration of history and culture to the rich intercultural environment steeped in Gullah culture in which she was raised. Smalls leadership with Penn Center has included development, fundraising, grant writing, program development, cultural and historical presentations, museum management and curating exhibits.
Ms. Smalls’ credits include:
Site Coordinator and Presenter, “Gullah Voices National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Teacher Initiative,” 2013, 2104, 2016, 2017, Panel Presenter for “Commemorating the Reconstruction & Civil Rights Eras: The National Park Service’s Call to Action in its Second Century, Association for the Study of African American Life & History Centennial Celebration Annual Conference, ”Atlanta, GA.2015, and Presenter for the “South Carolina Lowcountry Rice Culture Influences on Contemporary Visual Arts” Rice Forum, Georgetown, SC. 2015. Coordinator and Program Director of the “Penn Center Annual Heritage Days Celebration,” 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016. Program Developer, “Culture Keepers: Traditional and Contemporary Gullah Art Workshops for Youth,” 2016, 2107. Symposium Coordinator of “Slavery by Another Name” and “The Reconstruction Era 1861-1898”. Site Coordinator and Historian for the United Nations Documentary of ” International Decade of People of African Descent” 2015, and soon to be released upcoming documentary with SCETV, “Sea Level Rise and its Effect on Gullah Communities”.
Commissions and Board Memberships include, Federal Commissioner (currently), Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission (currently); State Commissioner (currently), South Carolina African American Heritage Commission; Board of Directors (currently), Pat Conroy Literary Center. A few of Smalls’ current initiatives are coordinating the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor’s “Watch Night & Emancipation Day Celebrations” and the SC African American Heritage Commission’s “The Green Book of South Carolina”.
Prior to her service with Penn, Smalls managed the internationally acclaimed, Red Piano Too Art Gallery on St. Helena Island, which represents over 100 artists. Her love and knowledge of art has led her to write a soon to be published book on Gullah Geechee artists and their art forms. Victoria Smalls is an accomplished visual artist who has been creating and selling her art professionally for 15 years. She has exhibited locally and nationally in art galleries and museums. Smalls has a background in Health and Physical Education at South Carolina State University, Orangeburg, SC and Early Childhood Education at the University of South Carolina in Beaufort, SC.