The Beautiful Project in The News

Yesterday, February 24th, was the last day of the Pen, Lens & Soul exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Our team is very grateful for all of the responses, reactions, and reflections we received about the exhibit since its opening in December. We are also grateful for the various media outlets that shared about our work on their platforms. Here’s a quick roundup of the press about the Pen, Lens & Soul exhibit that have been published over the last few months.  



Black Girl Magic Is On Display At The Metropolitan Museum of Art by Bridgette Bartlett Royall

“No one loves us, like us.

Black girls don’t regularly see themselves celebrated in mainstream spaces dedicated to the fine arts. In fact, the idea of walking into one of the world’s largest and most acclaimed art museums located on Manhattan’s affluent Upper East Side and seeing us on display, living unapologetically in our many colorful layers, from getting our hair flat ironed at the salon with a Biscuitville cup in the background to being a guest at a family birthday party where plastic cups are meticulously filled with ginger ale seems far fetched; even in 2020.” 

Read more


The New York Times 

‘Beautiful Project’ at the Met: Stories of Southern Black Girlhood by Salamishah Tillet

“On my way into the Metropolitan Museum of Art recently to see “Pen, Lens & Soul: The Story of the Beautiful Project,” an exhibition of poetry and photography by black girls and women based in Durham, N.C., I looked up to its facade. And there I saw Wangechi Mutu’s stately African and divinely inspired female quartet of bronze sculptures.

As I headed to show, at the Ruth and Harold D. Uris Center for Education, I began thinking that the spatial difference between these two collections was not a juxtaposition between high art for public viewing and art used for community outreach. Instead they were on a continuum, in which the black girls in the photographs and Mutu’s figures actively challenged the notion of who belongs in those cultural spaces.” 

Read More



Black Girls and Women from Durham Visit Their Art Exhibit at the Met by Khayla Deans

“When the pen is in my hand, what will I write? When the camera’s viewfinder meets my eye, what will I see and capture? How will I leave an impact on this world through my stories and images?

These are a few of the questions that we at The Beautiful Project in Durham ask Black girls and women.

For fifteen years, we’ve worked to cultivate voice and power among Black girls and women to own their narratives and to tell their stories. We exist to challenge the narratives that misrepresent and misuse our likeness in the media and society. We do this work under the pillars of sisterhood and care, recognizing the power of collectivity, community, and belonging.

It is our committed intention to create spaces for Black girls and women to simply be, to feel valued, and to be seen as our full selves.” 

Read More



Meet local young artists contributing to The Beautiful Project – reported by Lena Tillett for WRAL News 


New Metropolitan Museum Exhibition Features Works By Young, Black, Female Artists From North Carolina by Jane Levere

“A new exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, “Pen, Lens & Soul: The Story of the Beautiful Project,” presents over a decade of photography and writing by young artists who have been trained to use the camera and pen to document how they see the world and their aspirations.

The Beautiful Project is a North Carolina-based collective founded in 2004 that uses photography, writing and care to advance the representational justice and wellness of black girls and women.  Its black artists, scholars and educators encourage and equip black girls and women to be caretakers of their needs, images and stories.”

Read More


Our Town NY

Beauty, Strength and Promise: The Met showcases photography and writing by young Black women artists by Mary Gregory

“‘Just as you are, I choose you. And I’ll keep making that choice every time I see you.’

It’s called The Beautiful Project, and it truly is. The halls of the Uris Education Center at the Metropolitan Museum of Art are covered by inspiring, creative, compelling texts and photographs by young Black women artists. The Met is partnering with the North Carolina organization, The Beautiful Project, whose goal is to assist and support the creative efforts of Black girls who use writing and photography to define, declare, champion, and celebrate themselves and each other.”

Read More 


PR Newswire 

The Art of Expression: N.C. Middle-schoolers’ Photography on Display at ‘The Met’ by National Heritage Academies 

“Middle-schooler Lacquen Tolbert beams with pride as she views her art installment at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met) as part of The Beautiful Project. Her point of pride, the installment is a tribute to her grandmother.

Tolbert’s installment includes two pieces of photography titled: Self Portrait and Gran-Gran in the Kitchen. Her artwork is on display as part of Pen, Lens & Soul: The Story of The Beautiful Project, which presents more than a decade of work by image makers who create spaces for black girls and women to express their power and beauty.”

Read More


Additional Articles


Art Daily

Paris Photo


Iconic American photographer Carrie Mae Weems comes to University of Carolina-Chapel Hill on Wednesday, April 10 to present Past Tense, a striking lecture-style performance in which she examines the right to justice and peace through the lens of the classic play Antigone. Accompanied by startling imagery projected onscreen behind her, Weems explores themes of social justice, escalating violence, gender relations, politics, and personal identity within the context of contemporary history—recurrent subjects in her practice as a visual artist. Learn more about the performance and the artist’s motivation for creating this work.

We are excited and honored to partner with Carolina Performing Arts in a pre-performance workshop event before Carrie Mae Weems’ performance of Past Tense. Join us as we explore the impact of Weems’ art and celebrate the revolutionary power of words and images.

Our creative workshop, free and open to the public, will take place on April 10th at 6:00pm at Gerrard Hall, which is located right next door to UNC’s Memorial Hall. Also, friends of TBP who plan to attend Weems’ performance (and you should!) can receive discounted tickets ($15) by using our promo code:

TBPFRIEND can be redeemed online, by phone (919.843.3333), or in person at the CPA Box Office at Memorial Hall (M-F, 10 AM-5 PM). To redeem online: Select desired date on performance page. On next page, you must enter the code in the top right corner of the page before selecting desired number of tickets for the code to work properly.

Creative Workshop
April 10, 6pm
UNC’s Gerrard Hall
226-234 E Cameron Ave, Chapel Hill, NC 27514

Past Tense
April 10, 7:30pm
UNC’s Memorial Hall
114 E Cameron Ave, Chapel Hill, NC 27514

The Artist Soapbox is a platform that features local North Carolina artists to discuss their work, processes and journeys as creatives. The podcast was created by Tamara Kissane, a local artist in her own right, who decided to make this podcast with the hope to form a stronger community of artists of all mediums and to give space for artists to share deep insights into their creative lives.

Not too long ago, Tamara reached out to our team to feature The Beautiful Project on an upcoming episode. Two of our core team members, Pamela Thompson and Khayla Deans, had the great opportunity to speak with Tamara about their roles at The Beautiful Project and the impact of our work. Many thanks to Tamara for featuring us on The Artist Soapbox! You can listen to the podcast below or learn more about our episode of Artist Soapbox here.



On my living room wall above my couch is a large black and white photograph of three Black girls playing double dutch on a city sidewalk. I look at it lovingly every day. The photograph is a conversation starter for sure. Many people who visit my home are always drawn to the image. They look at it with familiarity—confident that they’ve seen this picture before. One time, I had a guest ask me, “Is that you?” as they pointed to one of the rope turners with glasses.

“No, it’s not me,” I answered. But I really wanted to say, “Can’t you see? That’s all of us.”

I don’t know any of the girls and women in this photograph, although I was there when this very moment was captured. Jamaica and I were representing The Beautiful Project at a wonderful opening reception in Harlem, NY for a photo exhibit called Picturing Black Girlhood. The event was full of Black girl joy, with dance battles, hand games, and cyphers of double dutch. Jamaica perfectly snapped this image of Black girlhood in action. And now it’s the first thing I see when I get out of my bed and start the day.

I write about this photo for a reason. As a collective of Image Activists, we document and collect many images at The Beautiful Project. If someone asked me to pick a photo that represents my journey at TBP, I would choose this one.

Can’t you see? That’s us.

Without question, I see myself in this photo. It recalls memories of myself as a girl and teenager jumping rope with friends and family on warm, sunny days. Honestly, I did not jump double dutch well. Getting the right coordination of my feet and the timing of the two ropes going around were too much for me to handle. My designated role was to be the turner. Now that, I could do. I enjoyed setting the pace for the jumpers, working in partnership with the other girl at the end, and watching the jumpers fearlessly master the winding ropes. Often times, after everyone had a turn jumping in the middle, my friends would take the ropes from my hands and encourage me to jump. Sometimes, I would start in the middle and they would turn slow. Other times, they would turn both ropes in a unified single direction so I can jump without the fear of the ropes hitting me. A few times, they would make me jump in true double dutch fashion. I learned to trust them and jump in on their cue. And even though I was scared of the ropes slapping me in the face as I jumped in, I always felt supported and safe in the circle that my friends and I naturally formed, surrounding whoever was jumping in the rope. That was sisterhood without me even knowing.

Through The Beautiful Project, I’ve been blessed to come to understand all the ways that sisterhood can be and how it can be activated in many spaces, including the workplace. When I was an intern, I was at the brink of my twenties and terrified of what life would require of me as a Black woman. Yet TBP patiently gave me the tools and care strategies I needed to manage my insecurities and questions about womanhood.

Since my first introduction in college, I’ve kept a steady eye on the work that TBP was putting out in the world. I watched from afar. I watched up close. I had a hand in shaping some of the work. I observed TBP during many years all while wishing and dreaming to do this work full time. Jamaica, Pamela, and Erin have been keeping their eyes on me as well, steadily making space and holding the ropes for me. Watching to see when I would be ready to jump. And that time finally came. In January of this year, I took the leap to join TBP full time and relocate to Durham, NC.

My journey with The Beautiful Project has been like a fun double dutch game with friends. Now, I do recognize this is an oversimplification of our values, mission, work, and impact in the world. But when I look back at this picture, I feel us. I feel the joy, the connectedness, and the focus of the girls as they jump and turn the ropes. I feel their confidence and trust in each other. I feel how the girls at the end of the ropes turn with wide circular motions, getting low with the jumper to match her energy. I imagine they are saying, “We got you,” as they look her in the eye and make space for her to fly if she wanted to.

Time and time again, the women of TBP look me in the eyes to say the same assuring words. And I reflect those words and that truth right back.

Written by Khayla Deans and Photography by Jamaica Gilmer for TBP