“I’ve always struggled to distance my ethnicity from my work because I felt it had nothing to do with anything – but as we all know, all of who we are shapes our impact on the world and, in my case – the built environment.”
Senior Lighting Designer
We are honoring Black History Month — an annual U.S. observance each February — which focuses attention on the enormous contributions of Black Americans over generations. Black History Month raises awareness about our need to learn more about people, places, and events that may not be included in traditional history textbooks. The 2024 theme is “African Americans and the Arts” spanning the many impacts Black Americans have had in visual and performing arts, literature, fashion, folklore, language, film, music, architecture, culinary, and other forms of cultural expression.
Lighting design influences the feeling and functions of our spaces. We are excited to feature one of our talented lighting designers for this year’s theme. Krystle Smith brings artistry to an environment with her lighting designs. She graciously provided her story and examples of her previous work showcasing her talented lighting designs.
“As a young theatrical lighting designer, I never thought about “being black” until others pointed it out to me. In high school, I was “special”, in college, I was “unique”, in graduate school, I was “a unicorn”. There’s always been a name for “it” – my blackness – other than just simply “Krystle”. I’ve always struggled to distance my ethnicity from my work because I felt it had nothing to do with anything – but as we all know, all of who we are shapes our impact on the world, and in my case – the built environment. I’ve had some great mentors, such as Kathy Perkins, a pioneer in theatrical lighting design; she studied with and was mentored by Shirley Pendergast, the first black woman lighting designer on Broadway and inductee into the United Scenic Artists’ Guild. It’s insane to think I’m only one and a half generations away from “the first”, but it’s not unique! As of 2024, AIA inducted the first black female president, Kimberly Dowdell, in the institution’s 166-year history. In 2026, I’ll be “the first” black female IES Seattle Section President. About 1% of black architectural lighting designers in the U.S. are practicing today. I’m used to being tested more, questioned more, and examined more for why I exist in such a space predominately not made up of BIPOC people. I think I channel that energy into the thoroughness and passion of my work – I love using light as an art form. Always having been one as having a flair for the dramatic, my talents in the hospitality sector had the freedom to soar. Lighting steakhouses with a warm, ooey-gooey deep saffron color temperature that melts patrons into the plush leather seating or the art of providing sparkle to every inch of the visual space of a casino. I love to create this magic and am proud that I can be “a first” of many in the industry.”