Curating Blackness through pop culture history: Recap of graphic designer Kelly Walters’ Design Week address

SUNY New Paltz welcomed renowned author, educator and designer Kelly Walters to campus to provide the opening Keynote Address at New Paltz Design Week, the annual celebration of all things design hosted by the Graphic Design Program and the Department of Art.

Walters, the associate director of the Communication Design Program at Parsons School of Design, set the tone for the week’s schedule with a talk about her practice and her ongoing work illuminating the Black experience in this country.

“Often, there are archives in museums where I don’t see any Black people. I don’t see myself and I don’t feel connected,” she said.

Her work is embodied in Bright Polka Dot, the multidisciplinary design studio and art practice she created to curate Black images from throughout U.S. history, and more recently in With a Cast of Colored Stars,” a collection of pop culture memorabilia Walters curated and recreated in her own style for display at Parsons.

“I want to touch on the history of Jim Crow and what these kind of Blackface caricatures mean to the understanding of Black representation as we know it today,” said Walters. “In thinking about this exhibition, I wondered how the work could feel if it reflected who I am and my background.”


An example of Walters’ iconography at her exhibit “With a Cast of Colored Stars”


“Kelly Walters’ work confronts complex and sometimes difficult cultural histories,” said Amy Papaelias, associate professor of graphic design and New Paltz Design Week coordinator. “Through this archival research and creative output, Walters remixes and reclaims visual language and typographic form.”

In addition to Bright Polka Dot, Walters was the creative director for a book of first-person essays called “The Black Experience in Design: Identity, Reflection & Expression,” which was released in February.

In 2021 she published her book “Black, Brown + Latinx Design Educators: Conversations on Design and Race,”  which featured wide-ranging discussions on racial issues from a panel of various design educators of color held during the pandemic.

Both books are part of the Sojourner Truth Library’s catalog, with “The Black Experience in Design” out on inter-library loan until July.

About New Paltz Design Week

New Paltz Design Week is a five-day celebration of design both on campus and in the Hudson Valley region.  

Design Week 2022 showcased a mix of in-person and remote lectures, workshops and events, organized by the School of Fine & Performing Arts, the Digital Design & Fabrication Program and the SUNY New Paltz Graphic Design Program, with support from the Department of Art, the School of Science and Engineering and the Hudson Valley Additive Manufacturing Center.