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News & Events for the Smith College Community
Research & Inquiry March 25, 2022

‘Power and Vulnerability’: 2022 Amplify Awards

As the winner of the public art category of this year's Amplify Competition, Emily Drennan '23 will see her piece installed at entry points to the Wurtele Center for Leadership. Photograph by Jeff Baker

For Emily Drennan ’23, banners are “signs of love” at Smith.

From Black Lives Matter signs to holiday placards to pride flags, Drennan views these visual “statements” as sources of joy and connection on campus.

Drennan’s appreciation for Smith banners inspired her to create a public art project that garnered a first place award in this year’s Amplify Competition sponsored by the Wurtele Center for Leadership. Her piece, “Love Letters”—three handmade banners with affirming messages that will be chosen in collaboration with students and staff—will be installed this spring at entry points to the Wurtele Center on Elm Street.

Drennan, who is majoring in studio art and psychology, says the Amplify Competition was her first experience designing a public art project. “It was a total change to conceptualize the project before I even started working with materials,” she says. “My takeaway is that everyone has something to offer to the creative community at large here. I want as many people as possible to be involved in the making of this piece that is by and for the Smith community.”

Thrifted pink quilt background with flower details and geometric threading, surrounded by a thick black border. Large italicized sans-serif letters in hot pink that say: “Curious? Lead the Way!”

Love Letter 1. Banner proposed by Emily Drennan ’23 for placement outside of 146 Elm Street, under the front porch and next to the front door.

Drennan was one of 73 students who submitted work to this year’s Amplify Competition, and one of 12 winners of first and second place, honorable mentions and People’s Choice awards. The contest, founded in 2020, is the culmination of a yearlong program of events, workshops and coaching aimed at helping students share their stories and perspectives through public writing, speaking and art.

At the virtual Amplify awards ceremony on March 9, Wurtele Center Director Erin Park Cohn ’00 praised the work of this year’s contestants.

“We see tonight as a celebration of all the ways that Smithies have sought to amplify their voices,” she said. “We’re grateful to be able to help you shape your voice through Amplify programming. And we’re inspired and moved by all the incredible work you’ve done.”

Contest judges—drawn from Smith staff, faculty and alums, as well as area arts and media organizations—also voiced appreciation for the quality of student submissions.

“It was wonderful to see people taking risks and putting themselves out there,” said Vanessa Cerillo, senior director of marketing, communications and events for New England Public Media, who helped judge the public speaking entries. “We were blown away by the power and vulnerability you all brought” to the work, she said.

This year’s entries came from students in a variety of disciplines, and covered a wide range of formats—including op-eds, poetry, blog posts, plays, TED-style talks and interactive websites.

Rosangela Mejia ’25—who won first place in the public speaking category for a performance of her poem “Angry Black Woman”—heard about the competition in her first-year seminar, when staff from the Wurtele Center came to talk about the Amplify program.

Mejia, who plans to major in government and Africana studies, says the program gives students “a real incentive” to explore the impact of their work.

“One thing I learned is that even if your truth is going to be hard for some people to hear, it’s important to put it out there,” she says. “I agree with the whole idea of putting uncomfortable but necessary conversations into spaces where we need them.”

Cohn says this year’s competition featured an increased number of submissions, votes from campus community members, and connections to classroom assignments—trends she hopes will continue as Amplify helps to make “the public voice” an integral part of student learning at Smith.

At the awards ceremony, public writing judge Sara Eddy, assistant director of the Jacobson Center for Writing, Teaching and Learning, said hearing those voices “made me feel pretty wonderful about Smith and what students are doing here.”