On Saturday, December 18, 2021, Bryan Robinson of the Black Genius Art Show held a ribbon-cutting ceremony and grand opening of Genius Guice Studios, a brick and mortar home to his collection of original paintings, wearables, collectibles, and animation-inspired garments. Many art enthusiasts, friends, family, and community leaders came out to celebrate this momentous occasion with him.
“I love his art. He has been drawing forever. He finally turned his artwork into clothing,” said Kimberly Smith, Robinson’s cousin, who was proudly outfitted in Black Genius attire. “We are very proud of him.”
“I started creating these cool, creative cartoon characters in middle and high school,” said Robinson. “They were my escape when I wasn’t paying attention in class. Now that same creation I started as a young boy has become the base of my business and the thing that I wake up every day to do.”
Robinson is among the first cohort of Downtown Partnership of Baltimore’s Black Owned and Operated Storefront Tenancy (BOOST) program, created to support and help sustain creative Black-owned Baltimore businesses in downtown storefronts. During this time when black own businesses are being disproportionately affected by the pandemic-influenced economic downturn, BOOST is assisting with standing in the gaps.
Shelonda Stokes, president of Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, while addressing the audience during the ribbon-cutting ceremony, said, “I came into this role during covid. I came into this role understanding that we need to make our downtown reflective of the demographics of our city. We came up with a program that was able to do both — we can help fill vacancies while making sure we are supporting our black businesses.”
Under the auspices of BOOST, Black-owned businesses, like Robinson’s Genius Guice Studios, are being provided with wrap-around services to assist with daily operations – including marketing, legal, and technical support. “We want them to win,” Stokes said. “This is not the end; it’s the start.”
Robinson underscores the vital role BOOST has played in his business. “A lot of us black artists don’t think we can make money off the things we create or know how to go through the business ethics of doing it. BOOST put us through intensive classes where we learned about contracts, lease agreements, a little bit of everything,” he said. “They take an artist who knows how just to paint, and they nurture you into a whole business mindset, and help you get your business to the next level and also be an asset to your community. They put me in a place where I am opening my own storefront, where I am can turn the key, control the environment, and create a hub for other creatives to come in and get experience.”
Many structural barriers hinder Black entrepreneurs’ efforts to start and sustain local businesses. Well aware of those barriers, Robinson is also cognizant of the persistent and systemic differences in opportunity for Black artists. “There weren’t a lot of resources for black creatives in communities where I was born and raised,” he said. “At one point, I was getting tired, tired of the doors closing.”
Now that he has been given the opportunity, he is committed to opening the door for others. “This opportunity puts me in the position to carry the mantle for other young black businesses and creatives,” he said. One day soon, “you will get to be the person who can turn the key, and then help someone else.”