AhDream Smith is one of the recipients of Arts Everywhere’s 2020-2021 Student Arts Innovation Grant. Her project, Make It Make Sense, is an immersive full sensory experience inspired by personal experiences surrounding love & loss during the COVID-19 pandemic. Read more below to learn about Smith, her project, and how she brought her vision to life.
Evolving: AhDream Smith
When asked to describe her art in one word, AhDream Smith said, “evolving.”
Smith has been around the arts since she was a child, primarily being exposed to drama and music at church and photography through her father. However, she didn’t encounter “fine art”, something one could do as a career, until college. “It was there that I began to see the 10,000-hour process that went into making a true artist,” says Smith. “During my time at Wesleyan, I explored various artistic expressions: figure drawing, gospel choir, taiko drumming, photography, and multiple dance classes.”
She had always been interested in acting but it wasn’t until her senior year that she was officially “bit by the bug” while doing a production of Vagina Monologues. Since then, she hasn’t looked back. Now, Smith is a resident actor with the PlayMakers Repertory Company and set to receive her M.F.A. in Acting in May 2022.
All these experiences helped Smith evolve as an artist. She reflects, “I think having the opportunity to explore those various artistic outlets definitely impacted my artistic process and what I see as possible for the work that I create.”
Smith plans to continue working as an interdisciplinary storyteller with acting as her primary medium and hopes to one day “be in a position where I can assist in adding more dynamic, multi-dimensional narratives about Black folks to the ever-changing media landscape.”
The seed, the vision, and COVID
The seed and perhaps backbone for Smith’s project, Make It Make Sense, is a photo that she had had for a while. “I initially had the idea of this cross-dissolved image back in 2010 and had been simmering on this notion of love, sacrifice, and loss. Some of the things that artists sacrifice in pursuit of an artistic career.”
Her vision for Make It Make Sense continued to evolve when people in Smith’s circles became sick with COVID and began experiencing symptoms of lack of taste and smell. It hit close to home when her father was diagnosed and hospitalized with COVID at the end of March 2020. This got her thinking about “how we take our senses for granted and when is the last time we’ve slowed down to really experience them?”
As the pieces of the project continued to come together in her mind, Smith still wasn’t sure how to make her vision a reality until she learned she had been selected to receive the Arts Everywhere’s Student Arts Innovation Grant in Spring 2021. The financial support from this grant gave Smith “the inspiration and resources…to mobilize the dream team so that I could share the vision.”
With funding secured, Smith had to plan an experience that would accommodate whatever circumstances arose due to the pandemic. With so many uncertainties of what the health and safety regulations would look like in the Fall, creating and preparing this program required her to think about “the in-person experience and how what is experienced in person could be translated to a virtual experience.” To make sure that the experience was a positive one for all involved, Smith often found herself “oscillating between the roles of producer, director, and audience member.”
Despite the many challenges of putting on such a program during COVID times, Smith says that the pandemic “indirectly created an opportunity for the work to be more accessible and for the community to come together in a way that may have been overlooked previously.”
Make It Make Sense
Make It Make Sense is an immersive experience that invites visitors to reflect on their own personal experiences while watching a taped performance piece. During the piece, the audience will have an opportunity to stimulate their taste and touch senses with complimentary items provided and write a note to someone they have not been able to connect with over the last 19 months.
The elements involved in this experience include: aromatics, photography, a narrative short film featuring original music and poetry, and mini gift bags. Through all of these elements the audience members will have a full sensory experience, engaging their senses of smell, sight, taste, touch, and hearing.
When asked which sense was the hardest to incorporate, Smith noted that the taste sense, while it wasn’t necessarily hard to incorporate, did require more consideration given all of the various allergies that people could have. But incorporating taste turned out to be her favorite because she had never been to an artistic experience where that had been done before.
Regardless of whether audience members are able to experience Make It Make Sense in person or virtually, Smith hopes that the takeaway message is the same, ““the human experience is complex and it’s okay to be grieving and present to gratitude. It doesn’t have to be one or the other.” She says the goal of this experience “is to curate a communal space to pause, reflect and let go so that we can begin the healing process and move forward.”
Experience Make It Make Sense in person October 8-10 and online October 11-15. Learn more and RSVP at https://www.eventcreate.com/e/mims.