I Create Birmingham: Toby Richards

“My hope is to share these engaging artifacts as educational tools for our community and develop programs to increase awareness of the museum’s collection, while also establishing ourselves as a sustainable presence in the community.”

Name: Toby Richards
Occupation: Curator of the Negro Southern League Museum
Creative Industry: Culture & Heritage

1. We want to say we were such big fans of your previous work with the Birmingham Museum of Art. Please share how you interpreted your role as Artist in Residence with BMA.
As Artist in Residence, I was able to use my position to collaborate locally, nationally, and internationally. These interactions made it possible to showcase the many varied talents of our wonderful City of Birmingham. This program not only led to many awards and publications, but to the unification of our city, of which our community can be truly proud. My tenure gave me the opportunity to live my legacy and honor my purpose.


2. Reflecting back, what are you most proud of in your time there?
Actually, there were many, many proud moments. However, if I had to choose I would have to say that it was seeing the looks, smiles, joy, and pride on the faces of the many participants after they completed an art project that they didn’t realize they could accomplish. Additionally, and notably, my appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show in 1999 which gave me the platform to introduce the BMA’s Community Mural project on national television. This elevated the persona of art in Birmingham, Alabama in a highly positive way. Additionally, having a student from the University of Bologna, Italy adopt the museums Empathy Program, a collaborative project with the Birmingham Chapter of the Links, Inc. as a model for her thesis is a true example of global connectivity in it’s entirety. Some unforgettable memories that will last a lifetime.

3. And now, congratulations on your position as Curator at the newly opened Negro Southern League Museum. Tell us what that entails.
My position is assisting Dr. Layton Revel with his world-class collection, featuring the largest collection of original Negro League and Southern League artifacts in the country. My hope is to share these engaging artifacts as educational tools for our community and develop programs to increase awareness of the museum’s collection, while also establishing ourselves as a sustainable presence in the community. In doing so, we will create global awareness of Birmingham’s rich history and preserve the Negro and Southern League’s heritage.

4. In terms of your knowledge of the museum’s subject matter, have you needed a little batting practice?
Yes! I did need some coaching as many of us do when leaving the dugout and stepping up to home plate. Making the transition from the art world to the baseball world wasn’t as great of a challenge as I thought it would be. It actually comes full circle for me. The support of my family, friends, former colleagues, community leaders, and my Uncle Reaf Blue (who played with the Atlanta Black Crackers from 1953-1960) reminded me of my twenty one years of hard work and dedication to our city and it’s 99 neighborhoods, as well as, other municipalities, supported by our Mayor’s Office and Birmingham City Council. The work prepared me for this next phase of my professional career. As I transitioned, I embraced and immersed myself in the world of baseball and have made a home run with my new and exciting position at Negro Southern League Museum as Curator.

5. The Negro Southern League Museum is hosting their first event, a panel discussion, on Thursday. In a nutshell, what can we expect from this “Pitch Talk?”
Our team is very excited about this event. Our Director, Natasha Rogers, has offered the following concerning this event: “Museum guests can expect to enjoy a thought provoking, educational, and entertaining conversation about America’s favorite past time (baseball) from a local perspective. Pitch Talk is just one of the many new exciting programs the Negro Southern League Museum has to offer. We are extremely excited to partner with a number of organization’s to create unparalleled cultural and educational experiences that residents and out-of-town guests can enjoy.”

6. Although you’re no longer at BMA, we know you would never leave the arts behind. What are you currently working on in your own artistic practice?
After traveling to over 21 countries, I am continuing my creative endeavors in Central America, the Caribbean, and Asia. I believe my position as Curator at the Negro Southern League Museumwill amplify my continued artistic journey.