Black spaces for learning and connection expand in Kansas City

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  • Published on January 31, 2023
  • Last Updated March 17, 2023
  • In Places

Check out these Kansas City local Black entrepreneurial spaces.

DETOUR recently spotlighted unique sites for exploring Black arts, history and culture in Kansas City, MO. Some destinations have a long-running presence in the city while new spaces for Black residents and travelers to learn and connect have blossomed in the region over the past several years. Here are a few more spots with ties to Black sports and culture in this bustling midwestern city.

The Blakk Co.

The Blakk Co. is a direct response to the need for more spaces for men and women of color, said Christina Williams, co-owner of the social club.

“[In] May 2020, my best friend and I were looking at the situation with George Floyd and just identifying that there weren’t a lot of social spaces that were dedicated to men of color in our community,” she said.

The club opened its doors to men of color in June 2021 and expanded membership to women in early 2022. The Blakk Co. fosters and nurtures connections between entrepreneurs, community stakeholders and other professionals across a diverse spectrum of jobs and income levels in a cozy lounge space in Kansas City’s Hanover Place neighborhood.

The membership-based lounge dedicates some nights to men or women only, and is the perfect spot for travelers looking for “good entertainment, good conversation, and good connections,” on open lounge nights, Williams said.

Club-goers enjoy game nights, “wine-downs,” and cigar socials in a setting that emphasizes positive energy. “The men specifically, they come in and you can just tell it’s like a burden lifted off their shoulders. They can truly relax,” Williams said.

The Blakk Co. also holds an entrepreneurship-focused series aimed at empowering men and women through networking opportunities and supports Black youth ages 12 to 17 through mentorship and mental wellness events throughout the year through its Blakk Juniors Program. The club is open to non-members from Tuesday through Saturday.

The AI Hub

The AI opened its doors in September 2022 as a collaborative space for creative exploration. The 3,500 sq/ft space in River Market includes a co-working lounge and four fully-equipped studios, each emphasizing digital creation, photography, sound recording, apparel and virtual reality.

The AI Hub’s open space in River Market in Kansas City, MO serves as a meeting place for creatives to network and collaborate.
The AI Hub’s open space in River Market in Kansas City, MO serves as a meeting place for creatives to network and collaborate. Photo courtesy of AI Hub.

Co-owners James Spikes III and Taylor Burris founded the AI Hub to make professional design and recording software and tools for photography and apparel production available and affordable to young creators and to foster opportunities for networking, collaboration and skill development.

“We both graduated from HBCUs in Atlanta, and we were entrepreneurs. And we’re artists, and we can’t afford contractors, studio space equipment all the time,” Burris, a Spelman graduate, said. “With us having competitive rates, we are opening up opportunities to those who are [running] startups and want to scale their business, or those who just want to dip their toe into something and figure out if they even like it or not.”

Creators can access the AI Hub’s tools and resources for a monthly fee. Visitors passing through the area can take advantage of the collaborative space with an affordable day pass.

Part of the AI Hub’s mission is to introduce as many people as possible to entry points for creative careers, Spikes said.

“We have a lot of people that just have a surface level interest in a lot of things like illustration, like recording music or anything creative like photography, but they don’t know the extent of where that can go,” he said. “When it comes to product design, when it comes to engineering, when it comes to going down this rabbit hole, how far can I take this talent?”

Natasha Ria Art Gallery

For anyone seriously on the hunt for original paintings by Black artists, Natasha Ria Art Gallery is the perfect place to visit. Founded in 2018, the gallery is an inclusive space for Black art and a meeting place for artists.

“I started to see the changing landscape of Kansas City art, and we were like pouring all this money into the arts but I wasn’t seeing any representation on a lot of different levels,” said Natasha Ria El-Scari, founder and owner of the gallery. I wasn’t seeing enough African American artists, I wasn’t seeing enough women artists, I wasn’t seeing enough self-taught artists, I wasn’t seeing enough older artists.”

By opening the gallery, El-Scari sought to establish a place for art that doesn’t “fit in” in a traditional space. The gallery exhibits work by people from all walks of life, but El-Scari emphasized the need for spaces for Black artists in particular.

“I want to create space for African-American women, African-American men and African-American children,” she said. Exhibits rotate throughout the year and feature the work of one or more artists at a time.

The gallery also hosts small parties, artists talks, studio time inspiration and community meetings and El-Scari uses the space to teach artists how to earn money from selling their art.

Niara Savage is a former reporting fellow with National Public Radio’s Midwest Newsroom and author of the novel “The Killing of Gregory Noble.” She holds a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and is currently based in St. Louis studying Psychology.