BAIA BITS: Gallerist Nicole Smith


Little Moments Where Knowledge Meets Art


In 1971, Nicole Smith was a curator at the Centre d’art in her native Port-au Prince, Haiti. In search of new adventures, Smith moved to the United States in 1973 where she sold Haitian artwork from her home and the trunk of her automobile.

Thirteen years later, in 1986, Smith stopped peddling art from her house and car. That’s because she opened the Nicole Gallery in Chicago, providing a timely and much needed platform for Haitian, African-American, and African artists. She would continue to do so for more than three decades. 

Along with representing the works of the African Diaspora, the Nicole Gallery shed a particular light on the Shona stone sculptures and artistic traditions of the Shona tribe in Zimbabwe. It was one of the first American galleries to do so as Smith played a significant role in popularizing Shona art, bringing one of the most comprehensive collections of Shona sculpture to the United States. Through such collections, the Nicole Gallery was soon recognized as one of the finest galleries in the world devoted to Diasporic art. 

Smith was also instrumental in fueling and guiding the careers of many of the artists she showcased in her gallery, representing them as well. Among them were such Chicago-based artists as Allen Stringfellow and George Carter, Haitian artist Franck Louissaint, and Nigerian artist N’Namdi Okonkwo.

Smith’s own popularity grew along with her gallery. In 2002, Chicago Gallery News featured her on its cover. In 2010, Smith was named a Chicago Defender Woman of Excellence. That same year, Smith put on a well-received fundraiser at the Nicole Gallery to benefit artists displaced from her old facility, the Centre d’Art, in the wake of the catastrophic earthquake that hit Haiti. 

On March 29, 2016, after transforming both Chicago and the art world with her wider representation of Diasporic art, Nicole Smith joined the ancestors.

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