Jasmine Williams moved from Mississippi to Austin, Texas on a whim. She had just lost her job in housing, which provided her a home. While some of her friends were visiting, they brought up the idea of her moving to Austin. With no job prospects that she could find at the time in her field of marketing and corporate relations, she took the chance and left the Magnolia State in 2018.
She was happy in Austin, where she learned she could make a living from creativity and entrepreneurship. She began delving more into her family lineage as well as Mississippian culture and history. Eventually, she ended up creating ’SippTalk, an online forum that highlights Mississippi creatives and culture through various multimedia forms.
“I found myself gravitating to the same work of creating community safe spaces, documentation, and I wanted to do it in a community that was closer to home,” Williams told the Mississippi Free Press.
Staying in Austin began to make less sense, so at the end of 2019, she moved to Jackson, Miss., a city with a large creative community and a place where many of her connections were based.
“I wanted to learn more about oral history and archives and really tell the stories of the people that are here because there’s so much I didn’t know,” Williams said.
A few weeks following her return to Mississippi, Williams met artist Nick Cave. After telling him how much she enjoyed his work, he hired her to organize a call-and-response to his “Beyond the Cave” exhibit at the Mississippi Museum of Art in downtown Jackson.
The event brought together more than 42 local creators from Jackson and across the state who created responses to Cave’s work through visual art, music, photography, dance and other forms of creative expression. Williams curated the event with friends Meredith Williams, Miranda Hicks and Charity Hicks, also known as rapper Vitamin Cea.
“We didn’t really know the journey that we were embarking on or like what we were really building, but we trusted the people that were around us,” Williams said. “To see the reactions from kids to elders who felt seen, felt special and were excited, that really did it for me. I knew that I wanted to continue to create safe spaces for Black folks to feel seen, regardless of what that looks like.”
This event helped her build a relationship with the art museum and ultimately acquire a position as associate curator of public programs and community engagement. In this role, she has organized events such as “Art and Voice as Healing,” Museum After Hours with The Mashup, the Food Truck Festival with Magnolia Market, and Art Night.
“I never saw myself working in a museum because I love the grassroots aspect; I love being able to create something that’s fresh and new,” Williams said. “I felt like it had to happen outside the walls of an institution, and I felt like I would have to sacrifice my creativity in order to fit into an institution. I think building that relationship did help them to think more about what community and including people really looks like.”
The associate curator said that transitioning into having an institutional mindset has been a challenge but that her experience has come with its own set of advantages like stability, resources and a set location and space that is always present for people to connect to.
The Columbus, Miss., native said she loves that people can see reflections of themselves and can affirm that they belong through the programs and events she organizes. The more opportunities she finds to provide people with a sense of community, the more she feels inspired to keep creating.
“There’s a narrative about Jackson not being safe … so having these programs and they happen safely, people are enjoying themselves, (and) we get to a real representation of what Jackson looks like,” the curator said.
Williams also serves as an artist-in-residence for the Mississippi Museum of Art. On Saturday, June 3, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., she and Sarah Jené will be on-site to premiere their outdoor installation “How We Get Over: We Grow On” in the Art Garden. The project, which will be open to the public during the museum’s hours of operation until Sept. 3, 2023, is an exploration of Black grief and Black southern traditions around grief.
Jené curated an opening ceremony that pays homage to the Black church and the tradition of testifying.
“We both lost family members to COVID, and it was just bringing up a lot of emotions that were bigger than just losing someone,” Williams said. “We were trying to create a space that just holds space for folks to deal with the plethora of what grief is, expanding on what we think about grief, and even talking more about what perpetual grief looks like and why Black folks experience grief differently.”
In the future, Williams wants to organize an arts and music festival and find opportunities for creatives to learn more about what it means to sustain oneself through art. Jackson’s creative ecosystem has always been there with artists doing the work to keep it going, the curator explained, emphasizing that the main thing that is still largely missing in her view are the eyes and resources to take it to the next level.
“Everybody is creating their own universe and doing things to push themselves forward,” she said. “We are going to look up (one day), and we are going to be at the place that we dreamed about because we’ve just been doing the work and people feel motivated.”
“How We Get Over: We Grow On” premieres outside the Mississippi Museum of Art (380 S. Lamar St., Jackson) on Saturday, June 3, 2023, with a launch event from the participating artists taking place from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. The installation will remain on display until Sept. 3, 2023. For more information on the art museum, visit msmuseumart.org.