Video Art, Semiotics, Grassroots Lecture Circuit


Morgan State University - Museum Studies and Historical Preservation (M.A.)
Howard University - Film (B.A.)


Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference, 2022
American Alliance of Museums Annual Meeting, 2022
Orphan Film Symposium, 2022
White House Initiative on Advancing Educational
Equity, Excellence and Economic Opportunity
through Historically Black Colleges and Universities, 2022


Council on Library and Information Resources, Symposium Organizer
National Endowment for the Arts, Visual Arts Panelist

In August of 2020 when I began this fellowship, my wife and I were settling into raising newborn twins, I was completing my master's thesis, and the world was in the midst of mounting paranoia due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the start, my interactions with Smith Center colleagues were solely virtual. I spent ample time exploring how my interests (film/video, museum studies, media studies, etc.) fit together and how I could best apply my skills in this new position. I was also eager to utilize the resources at my disposal, so I decided early on to start recording interviews even as I was still formulating project ideas. I wanted to improve as a videographer and get comfortable with setting up equipment and adjusting on the fly. I began by studying my local environment through video and film, as well as conducting research in order to build a philosophical basis for my work.

We use the video player Able Player to provide captions and audio descriptions. Able Player performs best using web browsers Google Chrome, Firefox, and Edge. If you are using Safari as your browser, use the play button to continue the video after each audio description. We apologize for the inconvenience.

The first Smith Center colleague I met in person was Leah Jones. I assisted her in filming at the Great Blacks in Wax Museum in Baltimore, a great way to get more exercise in location shooting. We continued to collaborate, later filming segments of NMAAHC Curator Mary Elliott for the Searchable Museum project. Leah was my point of entry for learning Smithsonian protocols regarding video equipment acquisition.

Sterling Warren in Baltimore

Framing a shot.

Sterling Warren in Baltimore

Recording the Great Blacks in Wax Museum.

From this practical application there began to emerge an overarching project that I titled Expanding the Archive, a series (ongoing) of recorded interviews with scholars and other notable figures in the DC/Baltimore area.

Umar Means Life

On May 21, 2021, I embarked on a project to document a community institution in West Baltimore. Umar Boxing is much more than a gym. It is an educational center where local youth collaborate on assignments and receive guidance from tutors. It also functions as a central depot for the distribution of needed resources, such as fresh produce, and as a meeting place for organization.

Marvin McDowell, the founder and director of Umar Boxing, has worked for years to establish a space of empowerment and inspiration. My video project, titled Umar Means Life, combines the audio from an interview I conducted with McDowell with a detailed visual examination of the layout, the equipment, the wear and tear, and the iconography of the space. This short documentary could be called a 'place study,' taking the viewer on a journey through a space given context by a knowledgeable narrator.

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This documentary video was created by Sterling Warren during his Applied Public History Fellowship at the Center for the Digitization and Curation of African American History (NMAAHC).
The video examines Umar Boxing, an athletic, educational and communal space in West Baltimore. The boxing gym and associated programs are managed by Marvin McDowell (Executive Director and former professional boxer).
As part of developing an ethical video practice, "Umar Means Life" is a study of a significant place in a Black community, narrated by a community member.

Beverly Lindsay-Johnson

I utilized the Expanding the Archive project to deepen my knowledge of documentary film production by seeking out experienced filmmakers. Beverly Lindsay-Johnson is an award winning producer and director who has built a practice through centering the unique histories of Washington D.C. On August 31, 2021 I interviewed Lindsay-Johnson, who was more than gracious with her time and offered some key insights that helped me streamline my focus and navigate the process of documenting history.

We use the video player Able Player to provide captions and audio descriptions. Able Player performs best using web browsers Google Chrome, Firefox, and Edge. If you are using Safari as your browser, use the play button to continue the video after each audio description. We apologize for the inconvenience.
Ibex Project

The first neighborhood I ever lived in is Brightwood, in uptown D.C. In this neighborhood there existed a nightclub called the Ibex, known throughout the city as one of the premier spaces for nightlife. To many Washingtonians, the club's memory persists in infamy because of a shooting that took place outside the club in 1997. A Metropolitan Police Officer was killed in the shooting, and the Ibex was shut down by the city soon afterward.

The legend of the Ibex loomed large over anyone in my age group, that is, the generation who were too young to go to the Ibex, but old enough to remember when it was open, see the pictures, and hear the stories about the club from older family and community members.

I was lucky enough to conduct interviews with four of the most influential DJ's in the history of D.C.: DJ Flexx, DJ Kool, Gregg Diggs, and Arthur "Maniac" McCloud. They each told me legendary stories about the Ibex and began to fill in the gaps that result from history that disproportionately values sources that emphasize the incidents of violence related to the club.

A newspaper article detailing an incident at the Ibex nightclub in Washington D.C.
History of Black Writing
Sterling Warren - HBW 1

Cataloging HBW archival materials.

Sterling Warren - HBW 2

Photographing each archival media object.

Sterling Warren in the media lab

Digitizing HBW materials in the media lab.

I soon began organizing a collaboration with the History of Black Writing (HBW) project, one of the earliest digital humanities projects focused on Black historical materials. I had regular meetings with HBW staff (at the University of Kansas), and helped to design a plan to digitize HBW's audiovisual archival materials. I personally (with the help of AJ Lawrence) digitized over 40 hours of content from the archive.

I designed a project that would utilize the digitized media and coincide with my ongoing projects as a fellow. I began to interview authors and publishers to document their unique histories and gain a deeper knowledge about the history of Black literature.

Eventually, while in Kansas to conduct a site visit at the Historic 18th and Vine Jazz District, I delivered a hard drive with the digitized materials to Dr. Maryemma Graham. I traveled with video equipment and shot an interview with Dr. Graham. During the interview I showed her the newly digitized media, some of which she hadn’t seen in 20 years.

From these components I created a video installation, on display in an exhibition at the Spencer Museum of Art in Lawrence, Kansas until January 7, 2024. The exhibition, titled Black Writing, commemorates the 40th anniversary of HBW, and combines HBW archival media with clips from the interview. The result is a multi-layered documentation of HBW’s history and evolving trajectory that puts the past and present in conversation.

We use the video player Able Player to provide captions and audio descriptions. Able Player performs best using web browsers Google Chrome, Firefox, and Edge. If you are using Safari as your browser, use the play button to continue the video after each audio description. We apologize for the inconvenience.
Community Archiving Workshop with Saint Paul's College

I began traveling with the Smith Center in December 2021 as we conducted a Community Archiving Workshop (CAW) in Lawrenceville, Virginia to preserve materials from Saint Paul’s College, an HBCU that closed in 2013. Here, I finally got to see the Smith Center at work, in a community, building capacity and preserving collections. The process began with training from the CAW team. I had experience with hands-on preservation previously, but the CAW was helpful because of its streamlined focus. The goal was to get as much done in the few days we had available by organizing the event so that we were maximally productive but still inclusive to participants at all experience levels. The effort was rewarding. We discovered an early film recorded on the campus, made great relationships with stakeholders, created the first collection inventory for their materials (training others to pick up where we left off), and transferred some very important skills. We are creating a model for long-term partnership, capacity building and project sustainability.

Sterling Warren - CAW 1

Working alongside Smith Center colleague Angela Winand.


An important object from Saint Paul's College collection.

Sterling Warren - CAW 2

Working alongside CAW organizer Mona Jimenez.

DC History Center

One of the best parts of the fellowship was the ability to build relationships with institutions throughout the D.C. area that . On November 23 of 2021 we met with D.C. History Center staff to discuss a partnership in which the Smith Center would facilitate digitization of collections of materials related to Black history.

Specifically, there is a group of audio recordings with Black artists in the city that was identified as a priority for digitization. Once processed, my goal is to develop a project using the audio of the interviews combined with my own research meant to place the recordings in context.

Sterling Warren - DCHC 1

In the DC History Center archives.

Sterling Warren - DCHC 2

Discussing collaboration with Doretha Williams, CK Ming, Leah Jones (she took the photo), and Anne McDonough, Deputy Director of the DC History Center

Equipment Gifting - A New Initiative

I  joined a cadre of Smith Center colleagues to develop a new initiative – Equipment Gifting. I helped to draft the visioning document and complete preliminary work by attending site visits to each participating partner. Early in the planning process, I compiled a document of every extant HBCU detailing the existence (or non-existence) of a Museum Studies program, an on-campus museum/archive and historical institutions in proximity. This will be important to the future of the project as we strive to involve HBCU students and emerging professionals in trainings.

I am proud to be able to help Morgan State University continue their digitization efforts. From personal experience I know the roadblocks MSU has experienced while digitizing their art collections. The Smith Center will provide much needed assistance and enable a new paradigm of accessibility and programming for a storied HBCU. We are currently designing custom equipment suites for each site and scheduling follow-up meetings to keep the program on track.

Sterling Warren - Site Vist Blair Caldwell

Blair Caldwell African American Research Library - Denver

Sterling Warren - Site Visit 18th Vine

18th and Vine Historic Jazz District - Kansas City

Sterling Warren - Site Visit Morgan State

Morgan State University - Baltimore

Sterling Warren - Site Visit Shorefront Legacy

Shorefront Legacy Center - Evanston, Illinois

Will: Restoring a Classic

There were several times during the fellowship where I was able to join in ongoing projects related to my interests. One unbelievable opportunity was to be included on a team of colleagues stewarding the restoration of the film Will (1981), directed by Jessie Maple, a pioneering Black woman cinematographer and director.

We met regularly with representatives of Jessie Maple, as well as partners at the Criterion Collection to coordinate the color correction process and begin scheduling the eventual premiers and releases. I attended color correction sessions with colleagues Ina Archer and Blake McDowell, which were a huge help, allowing me to gain a deeper understanding of the restoration process.

This project took on an immeasurable level of significance due to the death of Jessie Maple in May 2023. I am honored to have been a small part of the effort to preserve a true masterwork from an artist whose impact will live forever.

Sterling Warren - Color Correction 1

Color correction session Will.

Sterling Warren Color Correction 2

Developing an understanding of the color correction process.

Developing Partnerships in Virginia: The Lemon Project and First Baptist Church Excavation

In April 2022 I was able to join in a developing partnership with multiple sites in Virginia working to uncover and preserve Black history. We traveled to the campus of William & Mary in Williamsburg to meet with staff and students involved in the Lemon Project, a program that encourages scholarship on the intersecting histories of African Americans and William & Mary, including the enslaved people who worked on and around the campus. We were given a tour of the campus, including a new monument commemorating the lives of the enslaved. We also spent time in the classrooms of William & Mary learning about the ongoing research, then presenting our own work and discussing

While in Williamsburg we were also able to tour the site of the First Baptist Church Excavation Project. The project is working to uncover the remains of the Nassau Street site of the First Baptist Church, one of the country’s earliest African American congregations, founded by enslaved and free Black worshipers. The structures date back to the early 19th century and comprise an incredibly important site of memory and meaning. We walked the grounds of the First Baptist Church and heard first-hand from archaeologists and historians about the significance of the site.

Leah Jones and I were lucky enough to be given a special tour of the current First Baptist Church of Williamsburg, now located on Scotland Street. Their staff, including Pastor Reginald F. Davis, allowed us into spaces not usually accessible to visitors, all while giving us an engaging history lesson on the continuity of the Black worshipers in Williamsburg.

Sterling Warren - VA1

Standing on hallowed ancestral grounds at an archaeological site uncovering the First Baptist Church of Williamsburg (Nassau Street), created in 1776 by both free and enslaved Black people.

Sterling Warren - VA2

Meeting with William and Mary staff and students.

Sterling Warren - VA6

Ringing the Freedom Bell, originally acquired by the First Baptist Church in 1886. In 2016 the bell was de-installed and shipped to DC for the opening of NMAAHC.

Sterling - VA5

With Leah Jones in front of the Historic First Baptist Church at its new location on West Scotland Street.

Sterling Warren VA4

Learning church history from Reginald F. Davis, pastor of the Historic First Baptist Church.

Sterling Warren - VA7

Presenting Smith Center work to students and educators in Virginia.

Orphan Film Symposium - Presentation

In June of 2022 I was able to attend the Orphan Film Symposium, held on the campus of Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. After viewing some amazing work from all over the world, I was invited to present with Ina Archer and Blake McDowell. We spoke about our effort to preserve the film Black Chariot by legendary filmmaker Robert L. Goodwin.

In the presentation we showed clips of the film, as well as other works by Goodwin. In my comments I attempted to place the film in context while theorizing a way to approach a study of uncreated realities, the hidden potential of projects either suppressed or never realized. This is a concept I am continuing to develop and will eventually be the basis for future projects.

After the presentation I met film scholar Aboubakar Sanogo, who offered encouraging words and further resources to consult.

We use the video player Able Player to provide captions and audio descriptions. Able Player performs best using web browsers Google Chrome, Firefox, and Edge. If you are using Safari as your browser, use the play button to continue the video after each audio description. We apologize for the inconvenience.
At the Feet of a Jegna: Minister Clemson Brown and TransAtlantic Productions

My proudest accomplishment during my fellowship was the completion of a very focused Community Curation project with Minister Clemson Brown. For more than 50 years he was the Director of TransAtlantic Productions, amassing an unparalleled archive totaling nearly 30,000 hours of Africana scholarship on video.

We began meeting with him in late 2021. My first idea was to take the Smith Center's digitization truck to New York, but after consulting with my colleagues, we were able to streamline the process by limiting the formats we would focus on to Mini-DV and Hi-8, thereby allowing us to travel with equipment light enough to carry. Next, we navigated scheduling as we worked around Minister Brown’s emergent outside commitments. I and two other colleagues were present for the site visit where we created an inventory for the targeted materials, assessed condition of the tapes and spoke to Minister Brown about his needs and priorities.

At the time of digitization, CK Ming and I worked directly with Minister Brown to digitize footage of the discovery, archaeological analysis, and commemoration of the African Burial Ground in New York City. We were able to digitize nearly 20 hours of media, as well as catalog over 100 tapes. I conducted and recorded extensive interviews with Minister Brown which I am using to compose an article about his career, to be published in an appropriate outlet/platform.

Minister Clemson Brown died in August 2023, transitioning to become an honored ancestor. My development will forever be impacted knowing that I had an opportunity to study under the greatest Black videographer in history. He shared personal stories with me, advised me on my own communal and professional development, and allowed me to share meals with he and his wife, Mrs. Viola Brown. I toured his archive, an unbelievable trove of knowledge responsible for the education and enlightenment of so many across the planet.

Before he passed, he entrusted me with developing a project detailing his life, pathway to consciousness and his professional/creative development. I intend to complete the project, and to be one of the students who continues his work as I follow his example of dedication, scholarship and perseverance.

Sterling Warren - CCNY1

Digitizing Hi-8 tapes.

Sterling Warren - CCNY 2

Minister Clemson Brown and I.

Sterling Warren - CCNY 3

Working alongside Minister Clemson Brown.

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