Denver's Museum for Black Girls is a pop-up selfie museum full of joy

As a professional balloon artist and set decorator in a state where that’s rare, Aisha Glenn-Bracey’s brand of creativity is still on the rise. Thanks to The Museum for Black Girls, she finally has a place to gather her buoyant feelings about her identity — one unfettered by other people’s ideas about what that should be.

“It’s important to go all out, and not be stuck in a box or style based on what the trends are,” said the Colorado Springs-based artist, whose balloon tree, “Roots,” is part of the new pop-up museum at 1421 26th St. in downtown Denver. “I made sure to source colors that represented all shades of melanin skin.”

If you go

The Museum for Black Girls. All ages pop-up exhibition and selfie museum, running through late April. 11 am.-7 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; noon-8 p.m. Saturdays; noon-6 p.m. Sundays at 1421 26th St. Tickets: $15-$25. themuseumforblackgirls.com

The Feb. 19 launch of the family-friendly, selfie-driven exhibition coincides with Black History Month, but the museum will continue through the end of April, said founder and producer Charlie Billingsley. This will be Billingsley’s second time running the pop-up in Denver, the first being in December 2019, when she hosted 300 in-person guests for exhibits showcasing “the ways Black women learned to style and nurture their hair and embrace their beauty,” according to a press statement.

“There aren’t very many opportunities for creatives of color, but even in just Denver, there are so many amazing Black artists who people are unaware of,” said Billingsley, also an artist, this week by phone. “It’s partially because those artists don’t know how to go after those opportunities, or they get discouraged when they’re turned down, or the resources just aren’t there.”

Billingsley’s solution has been to doggedly apply for funding, exhaustively search for spaces, and network with other Black female artists. A newly launched GoFundMe campaign will route donations to her artists via gofundme.com/f/the-museum-for-black-girls, and ticket sales will help show whether the concept has legs beyond its planned April finish line.

All signs are promising, based on current feedback, Billingsley and others said.

“This is something I wish my younger self could have seen,” said Kayla Washington, a participating artist in the exhibition and Billingsley’s cousin, who noted that the exhibition was inspired by her 11-year-old niece, Jada (Billingsley’s daughter). “And these are things that I’m loving seeing today, as a grown African-American woman.”

Anyone is welcome at the exhibition, but the art speaks to Black women’s experiences, in particular. In addition to Glenn-Bracey’s elaborate balloon tree “Roots,” there’s Washington’s “Heaven Sent,” a collaboration with AunJanee Niblett “that shows that we are angels” and includes “a recipe of all the ingredients used to make a magical Black girl.”

Billingsley’s own installations — “Vibe Room,” “Grandma’s Kitchen” and “Iconic Black Women” — represent the past, present and future of all the amazing women who have contributed to Black history, she said. “Vibe” and “Iconic” present dense, overwhelming collages of positive imagery of Black women, while “Kitchen” achingly recreates period details.

“Fun fact about ‘Grandma’s Kitchen,’ ” Billingsley wrote in the description for her pieces. “The kitchen is where many Black families do their hair — so I re-created my own grandma’s kitchen.”

It’s important to show the joy and magic inherent in Black culture, the artists said, given the depictions often competing for attention in popular media. That’s especially true of the past year, where reckoning with police violence toward Black communities, locally and nationally, has often dominated the conversation on race.

“If you even get a chance to see anything about our Black women history, it’s trauma and sadness, and we didn’t want to associate that with this space,” Billingsley said. “We’re here to feel seen and loved with positive images. There’s racial injustice, yes, but we smile together, too. We enjoy ourselves. These are things that move us to be joyful.”

The space for the “tribute to Black girls magic” was leased under special terms by EDENS, a real estate owner, operator and developer, but the work and resources come entirely from the artists — and, at times, their supportive families. It matters, the artists said, since they’re already donating their time and resources to this important exhibition.

“My aunt has been there every single day,” Billingsley said with a laugh. “My mom and her husband, and even my grandmother, have come down a few times to make sure this vision came to life. It’s truly a family affair.”

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Updated Feb. 25 at 9:15 p.m.The following corrected information has been added to this article: Because of an error by the reporter, the nature of the museum’s deal with EDENS was misreported. The company is leasing the space to the museum under special terms.


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