Cultivating Creatives: Stephen Brown
Southern rapper, producer, and mover-and-shaker Stephen Brown (also known as 5th Child) is now donning two additional caps - landlord and director of the new Briarwood Arts Center (BAC).
Brown has been a resident of the Briarwood community for around six years, noticing the building on 614 Briarwood Drive come up for sale after the pandemic. A new father, Brown felt a pull more strongly than ever to leave behind a legacy not only for his child but for Jacksonians of all ages to thrive, build and dream.
"Even as challenges came up, I remember praying, 'Okay God, if you want this to happen, it's going to happen,'" Brown said.
Alongside friends and family, Brown immediately went to work setting up the BAC space to offer everything from craft-making courses to a photo studio, to private coworking and after-school tutoring rooms. Immediately upon entering, you walk into "Cole's House," the music production lab named after Brown's beloved dog, which visitors and members can rent out to host a songwriting session or record music and podcast episodes. The "Creative Kitchen" is fully outfitted with an embroidery machine, Cricut vinyl cutter, and candle-making supplies, which can be utilized to teach or used by entrepreneurs and hobbyists looking to take their skills and supply up a notch.
"If someone has an idea for a t-shirt, but they don't necessarily want to get 50 of them pressed up, they can simply come here with the idea, and we have all the equipment for them to work with," Brown said.
Around every turn, one is immediately inspired by the sheer amount of brainstorming and creating that can happen within BAC's walls as Brown rattles off examples of kickoff courses that he's already hosted, encompassing everything from Afro-Carribean dance and Anime to a Bible Study group and Health & Wellness seminars. A favorite is the Artist Studio, currently a blank slate with easels that will hopefully soon fill with reminiscences of local talent.
"We're intentionally not painting this room because I want it to look lived in, down to the paint splatters on the walls," Brown said. "If an artist can't do a long-term lease at a studio, but they have a couple of ideas they're itching to put on canvas, they can rent this space hourly. It's open to anyone in the community that needs it."
The membership rates at BAC are purposefully affordable, with student rates clocking in at around $50 for a six-month membership. Individuals can expect to pay around $75 for the same timeframe, and couple memberships are $100. Brown makes it clear that whoever feels the draw to work with their hands and hearts is welcome to join.
"It's not that experts aren't welcome, because we love to have knowledgeable community members come in to teach courses. But the space is really designed for the person who is still trying to figure things out," Brown said. "Who has a genuine curiosity but is afraid to dip their toe in the water because they're thinking, 'What if I'm not perfect? What if I don't get it right?' That's great. That's what we want, for you to come here and screw up and make all the mistakes so that you can fine-tune and get to where you can take yourself to a bigger place."
BAC stands to act as the cutting room floor, turning local artists and creatives into artisans and businesspeople that have shored up the entrepreneurial skills and acumen to make a livelihood out of their passion. Creativity may be at the forefront, but education is the heart that pulses throughout the operation. That, and a deep reverence for the potential of Jackson.
"What it's going to take from the creative community [in Jackson] is ownership," Brown said. "Primus Wheeler, Jr., Executive Director of the Jackson Medical Mall Foundation, hit home when he said, 'You can either change zip codes or you can change your zip code.' That stuck with me. That mindset has informed and inspired the way that we approach our work here."
When asked what his overall goal for BAC is, Brown smiles and acknowledges its growth and sustainability are important, but the larger picture is what it may do to catalyze similar collectives.
"My big dream with all of this is that somebody in another Jackson neighborhood says, 'You know what, there's an abandoned building right here in our backyard - why don't we get together and buy that building and start our own arts center?'" Brown said. "There's a need all over the city for this kind of work, for this type of community-building. Sometimes it takes seeing somebody else do it to realize that it can be done."
To learn more about Briarwood Arts Center, visit their website and social media.