Expanding the Walls: My Story


It was a beautiful sunny January day in 2011. I pulled open the front door of The Studio Museum in Harlem for my first day as an Expanding the Walls: Making Connections Between Photography, History, and Community participant. Butterflies in my stomach, I was excited yet nervous to meet my fellow participants, and wondered who they were and how close we might become through the experience ahead of us.

Sapphire Hilton during her 2011 Expanding the Walls
program year.

I walked up to the front desk, smiled at Mr. Parker, a veteran member of the Museum’s security staff, and introduced myself. His smile was infectious and vibrant as he gave me directions. I walked down the stairs and into the Expanding the Walls room, and looked around and see my peers sitting at a large table. We all looked at each other and understood that we were about to begin a journey together as one. This is what I will always remember as the beginning of a long and enriching relationship with the Studio Museum.

I was seventeen years old and had been accepted into one of the most prestigious teen programs New York museums have to offer. Expanding the Walls is an eight-month program in which high school students explore issues related to community, history and culture while learning the basics of photography. During the program, I had the wonderful opportunity to interact with Thelma Golden, Chief Curator and Director of the Museum, and visit the studios of living artists, and numerous galleries and museums. We also learned how to frame and mat our final images for the summer 2011 exhibition. as it is, as it could be was the product of our time together—the hard work, laughter, disagreements, support and learning.

Sapphire Hilton, Lights, Action, 2011. Courtesy the artist.


“It’s not a good bye but a see you later” is the perfect quote to describe my relationship with the Studio Museum.


Expanding the Walls provided me with insight into and exposure to a world that many do not have the privilege of accessing. I know so many youths who attended schools that did not nurture their creativity or expose them to different careers in the arts. At only seventeen, I had the opportunity to learn the practice of photography and have my artwork included in an exhibition on the prestigious walls of the Studio Museum.

My experience here helped pave a path to becoming the Photo Editor for La Voz Magazine at Syracuse University, and created opportunities to photograph prominent lifestyle bloggers and build up a portfolio over the years. “It’s not a good bye but a see you later” is the perfect quote to describe my relationship with the Studio Museum. After I graduated from Syracuse University, I looked for my next destination. Because I had kept in touch with our Expanding the Walls coordinator throughout the years, I was offered an opportunity to intern here over the summer with the class of 2016. Working with such a talented group made me proud to see the direction in which the program is heading. I found myself wishing that I could be a permanent part of this world-renowned cultural institution—and my wish came true. After my internship ended, I was given the opportunity to continue to be a part of this amazing network and family as the Museum’s Education Assistant. Expanding the Walls has been and continues to be an integral part of my development. Thank you, Studio Museum, for being a constant presence and source of growth in my life.



—Sapphire Hilton

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