Artist Feature: Juana Williams

Boardwalk Dress - White / Workshop Cardigan - Stone

Boardwalk Dress - White / Workshop Cardigan - Stone

WHO: Juana Williams @curator_juana
WHERE: Urban Institute of Contemporary Arts - Grand Rapids, MI
WHAT: Curator at the UICA & African American Art Enthusiast

LOOK 1: Boardwalk Dress & Workshop Cardigan
LOOK 2: Luna Wrap Dress
LOOK 3: Wrap Jumpsuit

We feature Juana for countless reasons…she’s a regular badass. A voice for women in the arts and a fierce embodiment of possibility and equality in the art world, Juana simultaneously started a family while getting her Masters Degree and beginning her art career in Detroit. In taking steps towards sustainability, she came to us to learn more about how we do ethical fashion, and the rest is history. We met her at the UICA in downtown Grand Rapids to see more of her world.

Luna Wrap Dress - Sky

Luna Wrap Dress - Sky

Juana inspires us to do what we do — she has an inclusive and diverse vision for the arts community. We talked to Juana about her story, passions, and her vision for the future.

Tell us a little bit about your story. How did you get where you are today?

I gained knowledge and experience about curating through my graduate program and interning and working at local institutions. I worked in the art-world for a few years in Detroit before I started at UICA.

What does a typical day in the life look like?

I’m not sure that I have a typical day. I’m often researching and writing, or communicating through email. A large part of my job is planning and communicating with artists/galleries via email or phone, but I meet with different arts professionals, do studio visits, go to art fairs, and travel for different reasons.


Where do you get your inspiration? 

I’m very interested in using exhibitions as my way of communicating with the world. The exhibitions aren’t personal but I always try to focus on topics that are very relevant and relatable in our current culture. So, I would say reading recently written articles, paying attention to what’s happening around me, viewing artwork, and talking to artists inspires me the most.

Where do you find artists?

Everywhere! I go to exhibitions, talk to other artists and curators, visit universities, and read a lot. I honestly find artists the most on social media. Instagram is a tool that’s easiest to use. Then I try to make time to meet with artists and view their work in person. (Check out Juana’s awesome Instagram!)

What is your process for curating a gallery or exhibit? 

I work from multiple avenues. Sometimes I’m inspired by a specific work or I find an artist with an interesting series. Other times, I work from themes that may be influences by research or events in our current culture.


“I’m interested in using exhibitions as my way of communicating with the world…”

Describe the UICA space. How does it work well? Are there any challenges? 

UICA is a unique space for exhibiting art. We have four floors of galleries that are all designed differently. It takes some creativity to navigate the best ways to use the space, but overall, it’s a great space for exhibiting contemporary art. It’s inspiring for me as a curator because the layout gives me a lot of creative freedom. It’s also cool that we have an awesome theater and studio.

What do you usually wear to work? What makes a garment function well for you? How do you interact with your clothes while working? 

I try to mostly wear natural fibers and buy clothes that I can wear through multiple seasons. I focus on comfort but also try to dress appropriately for a business casual environment. Also, pockets are a huge bonus in any garment!


As you know, Conscious Clothing is all about being conscious about our consumption and how we interact with the earth. How do you incorporate eco-conscious or sustainability practices into your life?

I’m vegan — that’s probably my largest contribution to living a sustainable and eco-conscious life. I intentionally moved to a neighborhood that’s close to my job so that I wouldn’t have to drive daily. Most days I walk or use public transportation to get to work. I also reuse, recycle, minimize plastic usage, etc., but I’m constantly trying to figure out ways to be more conscious of my relationship with the Earth.

You are a fellow West Michigander, do you have any favorite places or things to do in Michigan?

UICA, of course! I’m actually originally from Southeast Michigan. I moved from Detroit to Grand Rapids in August 2018, but I’ve always loved Lake Michigan. Even when it’s too cold to swim, which is most of the year, I love to hangout at PJ Hoffmaster State Park Beach and Rosy Mound.

What are your favorite pieces in the Conscious Clothing collection?

The Brooke Dress is my all-time favorite. I always love the wrap jumpsuit.

Wrap Jumpsuit - Clay

Wrap Jumpsuit - Clay

ALL images by the fabulous Leigh Ann Cobb.