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Critical Bounds: Nicole Bearden AC ’19

Alumnae News

Nicole Bearden

Published March 3, 2020

Nicole Bearden AC ’19 launched the pilot segment of her podcast, “Critical Bounds,” nine months ago for a Smith class, with the first episode focusing on border politics and Latinx visions of contemporary art.

Since then, her podcast—which focuses on conversations with emerging contemporary artists and curators—has come to life. Bearden’s guests have included professors, artists and innovators of all kinds.

A recent Helen Gurley Brown Magic Grant from Smith has allowed Bearden to expand her work. Named after the pioneering editor of Cosmopolitan magazine, the grant program is designed to help Ada Comstock Scholars and program alums bring their creative ideas to fruition.

Bearden was one of three Adas selected as 2019 Magic Grant award recipients. (The others were Tanya (Ritchie) O’Debra ’19 for her  play “Shut UP, Emily Dickinson,” and Auralynn Rosario ’18J for her docu-series “Being Jezebel.”)

Bearden says the Magic Grant will allow her to compensate her guests for their time—something she does on principle. “I think that artists are often taken advantage of because people think they are doing what they love and should therefore work for less,” she explains, “I am not paying them for any point of view; they say what they want. But I am giving them a stipend for their time.”

Bearden, who attended a two-year college in Seattle before coming to Smith, says the Smith College Museum of Art and museums concentration were what drew her to campus. After graduating from Smith with a degree in art history, she returned home to Seattle, where she is preparing to apply to graduate school for curatorial programs in international contemporary art.

Here’s what Bearden had to say about “Critical Bounds.”

“Art is informed by and informs the current events that are going on around the world. I wanted to see how artists were experiencing these issues personally in their lives, how they are being manifested in their work—and just to have a conversation about it. ‘Critical Bounds’ is built on a foundation of my academic work and research. It’s informed by a lot of the studying I’ve done, but I didn’t want it to be a purely academic conversation. I wanted it to be accessible to people who don’t speak the art language.” 

“I took a contemporary art class with Frazer Ward called ‘Studies in 20th- and 21st-Century Art Border Crossings.’ For our final assignment, we had a choice of a project or a final paper. That was my last semester at Smith, and I was interested in talking more to artists that I had worked with about current events, to show people that art is not something that’s separate from our everyday lives.” 

“Every single episode [of the podcast] is different and I like them all for very different reasons; the people I am speaking with, the issues that we are talking about, or how they are approaching them in their work. I think there’s something valuable to each and every one, because it’s a different way to approach journalism. I hope that people who explore the podcast will find somebody’s work that they didn’t know about before, and will be able to connect in a new way with art.”

“I’ve learned to accept that everything that can go wrong will go wrong. The podcast has taught me to find creative solutions to technical problems. My skills with editing and recording are ever growing and I’m excited about expanding those skills.  I handle every aspect of the podcast—from finding artists, to scheduling, recording, posting content and editing. It’s a process, not all fun and games. But it is fun!”

“Smith was very influential in the ways that I look at and practice art because of the educators I was able to be in contact with. I want to encourage Smithies to take advantage of having very real discussions about your field with your instructors and the people you’re working with while you’re in college and have that opportunity.”

Bearden’s work can be found on her website, instagram account, and at