As Alabama celebrates its 200th birthday this year, one University of Montevallo student is working to make sure one of civilization’s oldest and most important institutions is accessible to everyone.
For art major Cheyanne Smith ’20, art is an essential component of what it means to be human.
“There is evidence in cave paintings that show we have been creating art for over 25,000 years —15,000 years before we even understood how to grow food,” she pointed out. “The very act of choosing to spend time creating imagery over hunting, sleeping or other actions pertaining to survival not only implies art’s importance, it also suggests how fundamental art is to our well-being.”
As the first in her family to graduate high school or attend college, Smith is a part of the McNair Scholars Program, which is designed to assist first-generation and limited-income students with furthering their education.
“I knew that getting an education was imperative to breaking the cycle of poverty in my family,” she expressed. “I am so thankful to UM for creating an opportunity like this for me.”
She is making the most of this opportunity, pursuing a teaching pedagogy and working to advance art accessibility through developing assistive technology for individuals with disabilities in Alabama and throughout the world.
“My first development was a device that allows users to see sound,” she said. “Working with Dr. Q (Qshequilla Mitchell, director of McNair Scholars Program) and my two faculty mentors, (UM Professor of Art) Collin Williams and (Assistant Professor of Art) Lee Somers, we nearly got approved for a patent.”
Her second invention is still in development and allows blind individuals to experience art via physical touch through sensor-coated gloves.
After a colleague suggested she apply as an art teacher at the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind, Smith began to create ways to incorporate what she was learning at UM into her art classes. The result was a creative, accessible approach to experiencing art. She actively equipped her students with a means of self-expression.
“Art became a powerful tool that enabled them to show others their own perspectives,” she recalled. “One of my students told me she loved finally being able to paint (in these unique ways) with her daughter. Other students who hadn’t always been blind were relieved to hold a paintbrush again.”
Though a student herself, Smith’s contribution to providing accessibility to creating art resulted in her own students feeling empowered.
“I am so thankful to have seen and even been a small part of their progression towards more confident and independent lives,” she said.