We are super pumped to have the opportunity to introduce y’all to your new favorite gallery and studio in the Queen City—drumroll, please… BlkMrktCLT!
BlkMrktClt is a creative and collaborative gallery and studio space based in Charlotte. Owned and operated by artist Dammit Wesley and Simplistic Phobia, BlkMrkt works with local photographers and artists of color offering them a safe creative space to work in.
And we had the incredible opportunity to connect with BlkMrktClt’s co-founders to talk the roots of the company, their source of inspiration, support of the arts in the black community (and vice versa), and so much more.
Read on to get to know more about these local entrepreneurs, their creative and empowering initiatives, and their hopes and dreams for the Charlotte art community.
Q: What inspired you to open BlkMrktClt?
DW: I was inspired to open Blk Mrkt because I knew we needed a base of operation. Our Collective had become a nomadic crew of renegade artists. For about 3 years, we had been hosting underground art events throughout the city. We were Charlotte’s seedy “Art Underbelly”. When Camp North End (CNE) offered me a studio space I was apprehensive. I told Will and he convinced me to move forward…
SP: This is essentially the same answer for me as well. I would add it got to the point where we both really needed a place to work and expand. Our living was over packed with paintings and photography equipment. I was on the search for a studio months prior to finding Camp North End, so when they came to us with the opportunity it made sense to go with it.
Q: How did you get into the arts? Growing up, did you feel that the arts were supported by the black community?
DW: I got into art at a young age via necessity. In kindergarten, I developed a stutter and it became extremely difficult to communicate. Whenever I went into a stuttering spell and subsequent tantrum, teachers would give me paper and crayons and tell me to draw it out. It became obvious to me at a young age that art was a language. My historically black church was extremely supportive of the arts. I just don’t think the arts were supportive of Black communities
SP: I got into photography as a kid. I think I was 8 when I received my first camera and I remember always taking photos at various family functions and events. I didn’t really explore it as an art form until college. Growing up there were not that many people in my family or community that pursued a career in the arts. We were a “go to college and find a job” type of family. So, when I later decided to pursue this as an art form, I wouldn’t say I wasn’t supported by the people in my family and community, but I would say just not understood. I say all of that to say as a young age I wasn’t heavily exposed to the arts so my perception was that my community didn’t support it until I was exposed to that world at a much later age in life.
Q: Because BlkMrktClt reaches out to so many different types of creative outlets such as poets, painters, designers, and photographers; how do you see them encourage and inspire each other?
DW: Creatives of all colleges inspire each other through collaboration. Collaboration is the backbone of Blk Mrkt. We are all more creative when we work together, share ideas, critique each other, and challenge our peers to be better.
SP: I agree with Wesley on that answer.
Q: Who inspires you?
DW: Who inspires me? That’s a hard question. I’m literally inspired by everything. I scroll through Instagram and my brain just melts at the sheer amount of ideas to test, replicate, and implement in my own work.
SP: To be honest I’m inspired by the people around me. While yes, I look out to some of the greats in the photography and video world such as Gordon Parks, Spike Lee, Ansel Adams, etc. I get most of my inspiration from creatives I interact with on a daily basis and some that I find on social media. While the greats teach me the technique I love seeing how people I’m able to actually reach out to create.
Q: You both have major initiatives (“Let’s Talk Dammit” and “Project Rough Cuts”) geared towards helping young artists find their style, confidence, and business savvy. When you were first starting out, how did you learn these lessons? Were you self-taught?
DW: Everything I’ve learned thus far in my adult life has been through failure. Black people aren’t really given the luxury of failure in this country, we’re brought up knowing all the stereotypes attached to our skin color and the notion that America expects you to fail. I was lucky enough to have access to a college-level arts education at a young age and the fearlessness to just go for things regardless of the end result.
SP: I would say for the most part I was self-taught. I luckily learned how to navigate business-wise from working and shooting on a corporate level, but moving as an artist i learned through my own mess ups. When I say mess ups I mean not adapting well to the world and not accurately defining myself, my style, or my business. However, as I grew and I linked with others who have been doing this for awhile, I learned and was able to incorporate both of my worlds together. The corporate and the art world, and that’s what I help younger artists learn.
Q: What are your biggest goals for BlckMrktClt and your other initiatives?
DW: My biggest goal for Blk Mrkt is growth. I want to host bigger exhibitions for rising artists. Provide more mental health resources to frustrated creatives. Facilitate larger cultural initiatives like DURAG Fest. I want Blk Mrkt to be a place where creatives of color can see themselves represented and included. Our community is growing, and I want to serve them in every way possible. So, to every billionaire tycoon reading this article, send us bags of money. Blk Mrkt could use a dollar or two.
SP: I want Blk Mrkt to honestly become a staple to the community and the future communities that we integrate into. I don’t want us to be like some of these other art institutions and groups that come in take over and outsource work. I want us to use the resources here and be able to be that place where someone in any local community can be like this is where I need to be if I want to be an artist and get my name out there and grow.
Q: What is your biggest hope for the art community of CLT?
DW: My biggest hope for the Charlotte art community, is that Charlotte catches up. The artists here are so talented and authentic. Culturally the city of Charlotte just doesn’t have the palette to consume art…yet. I hope Charlotte’s leaders, influencers, athletes, drug kingpins, bankers, etc, become art collectors. Patrons are necessary for this art eco-system to exist. There’s no reason for the home of NASCAR, The Hornets, and The Panthers to have such a small art community. The city should be bubbling over with local art, and while initiatives like Art Pop are putting local artists at the forefront we need our more powerful citizens to put their money up and actually splurge on true luxuries. Fine art.
SP: I agree I want the art community here to get its worth. There is so much talent here and there are so many “collectors” here, but they aren’t pulling from the amazing talent here. People are always saying Charlotte doesn’t have an art community, but we are here every day at BLK MRKT bringing together that community and I want the art community; particularly the artist of color, here to just state our worth and value and to let everyone know we been here creating dope shit.