History professor hosts NPR program to ‘awaken’ curiosity about art, culture

Dr. David Smith, senior lecturer in history, hosts a weekly NPR segment called "David and Art," which airs on KWBU and discusses art, history and culture. Grace Everett | Photographer

By Julianne Fullerton | Reporter

Dr. David Smith, senior lecturer in history, has been teaching at Baylor for 20 years, but his passion for history and storytelling extends beyond the classroom.

Every Monday morning, his NPR show called “David and Art” airs on KWBU.

Smith said his show grew out of a weekly column he wrote for the Waco Tribune-Herald on arts, culture and history. In 2018, after eight years of writing, he said he made the switch from print to audio.

“It basically just grew directly out of my newspaper column that I’d been doing since 2010,” Smith said. “I’m passionate about people having a broader worldview and appreciating that there’s a lot out there but that it can all be understood.”

Smith said the inspiration for what he discusses can come from anywhere. He subscribes to an email digest of art world stories, so occasionally, he pulls an idea or two from there, but in general, Smith said he talks about whatever “catches his eye.”

“If I happen to notice it’s the birthday of somebody who’s big or the centennial or the anniversary of somebody’s birth, I’ll do a show about them; I like to do shows about individuals,” Smith said. “If there’s anything historic, I like to combine history with it.”

Although his show is only around three minutes long, Smith said the topics he covers range from a feature on the importance of art galleries and the decline of participatory art to a show about Aaron Burr or the idea of having poets on the moon.

“Back when the first mission to the moon was a big deal with people writing about it, a writer said that NASA should send poets along with every space mission to the moon, because poets would have a better way of describing and relating these epoch-making events to the average person,” Smith said. “So, I wrote a show about that.”

Smith said he is trying to captivate an audience that is even the least bit susceptible to becoming curious about the world around them.

“I’m trying to appeal to any audience that is curious about art or culture or all of the above,” Smith said. “I try to awaken people’s curiosity by the stories I tell, because once people get to the point of wanting to know something, half my job is done.”

Brodie Bashaw, station manager and one of the hosts at KWBU, said the production process is relatively simple, and Smith makes everything run smoothly with what he brings to the studio.

“When he comes over here, he goes in one of the production rooms and basically reads his script, and he’s very good at it,” Bashaw said. “It doesn’t take him long at all; it’s just a three-and-a-half-minute segment. After he cuts his audio, here on our side, we cut a little intro for it and a tag and put it together.”

With around 17,000 unique listeners a week for KWBU, Bashaw said Smith’s show is one of the well-received local segments they air. David and Art airs every Monday morning during the Morning Edition and All Things Considered segments.

“He is very entertaining and fun, and it’s a joy to work with him,” Bashaw said. “He loves what he does.”

Smith said if he were to describe his show to potential listeners, he would describe it as three minutes in which he wants to introduce them to something they may not know about — or, if they do, don’t know about deeply.

“I want you, in three minutes, to learn about a piece of art, an artist, a piece of music that you didn’t know about that has the capability of maybe being a new favorite for you,” Smith said. “The thing about art is there’s always something new to discover. Nobody knows it all. I just want to spread a little bit of news about what I do know or what I’ve discovered.”

Similar to his role as a professor, Smith said his main motivation for his show is to awaken people’s curiosities.

“You want to make people aware of the stuff that you think is important,” Smith said. “You believe that if they know this, they can make a better sense of the world. If they know this piece of art, if they know this composer, their world will be a little richer and a little more complete.”

Julianne Fullerton
Julianne Fullerton is a junior Journalism and Professional Writing and Rhetoric double major from the Houston area. She loves the editorial side of the writing process, which is why she enjoys being a Copy Editor. She loves going for walks, taking naps, going on Sonic runs, having game nights and traveling.