It was a mild November Thursday night in Austin when Origin Studio House had a soft launch to become available to the wider public. Instantly greeted by a sea of smiling Black faces and music that erased the sorrows of the day, I entered the grounds. The mix of Afrobeats and hip hop made it feel like you were at a cookout, except this was a soft launch for a gallery and community space, and community was definitely felt within the atmosphere.
Two Black women and a Black man with radiant smiles and talent ushered me into a house with a terracotta door where art hung from the walls as music shook the gallery. This Black oasis nestled in District One of East Austin is answering the question, “What’s Black in Austin?” What started as a space in a garage three years ago has blossomed into an immaculate outdoor venue that is deceptive in appearance. It is, in fact, not a house but an inviting space to form and maintain community.
Origin Studio House is an art gallery and communal space for safety and connection. The gallery features art by Jacob Guzman and Taylor Barnes. The artists’ works speak to Black cultural values, experiences, and existing in the Black body. When walking around the gallery, I noticed a piece in black and white text that said, “token.” Another piece showcased a pair of Black legs.
The space was crafted and created by founders Brittney Williams, Chief Experience Officer and co-founder; and Dante Clemons, Chief Executive Officer and co-founder. The two were introduced through a mutual friend (who is also a local entrepreneur) because they had similar interests and greatly valued community. When asked their definitions of community, the two responded with:
DC: “A network of people that are, as I would define it, interested in you being your best self. You know… there’s safety to it, there’s a well-beingness to it. There is some level of commitment to just doing good. Someone asking, ‘how you doin?’, and someone really listening to their answer. To me that’s communal. [points to Brittney] would probably add a plate of food.”
BW: “I would say ‘I’m here with you.’ I would say community is the place where you can excel [and] however you can, create those resting moments with strangers or blood or whoever.”
Music blasted outside while I asked Clemons and Williams questions about the catalyst for the studio as well as if they could describe it as any relative’s house, what it would be and why. It seems like a zany question; however, the answers dictate accurate vibes felt within the event.
DC: “An older cousin. An older cousin who has been to places you want to go to. It’s the older cousin that inspires you. An older cousin that you admire and look up to. You walk in your own path which is certainly inspired by this person. Through the dimensionality of what is right now, art on the walls, and the types of experiences that appear to happen in this space.
The goal is that somebody is put on to something new. That they are introduced to something new where they can feel very safe. They are never being talk downed to. But introduced to maybe a new ingredient in a beverage writer, a new artist, and the new way of thinking about art or continue with art.”
This is a place where you can show up as you are
BW: “Big Mama. I think with my hospitality background, there is a level of hospitality that everyone feels whenever they go to an elder’s home, like, you are taken care of, you are safe. This is a place where you can show up as you are, so much so that we named one of our cocktails ‘big mama’s brew’ just to pay homage and respect, not only to the elders [but] just the feeling of hospitality.”
I asked Clemons and Williams two questions about the genesis of Origin Studio House and its future. They responded with:
What was the inspiration for origin house?
DC: Our inspiration for Origin Studio House was rooted in creating a space and environment that was hospitality-focused but felt safe, inviting, and welcoming, and centering and celebrating the dopeness in the range of Black people. I think that what I was personally craving was a place where I could meet what I would call the ‘cool kids’. I wanted to meet creatives doing dope work that might be inspiring to me. I wanted to create a space and just be in a space, honestly, where I could meet people that could become friends or collaborators.
I moved to Austin in 2015, and I used to count the number of Black people I would see at stoplights. Like it was a real thing. I had to work really hard to find community here, but it was really important for me to do that, and I think that’s hard and difficult to do. Really, I just needed a creative space that I thought would be inviting for Black people.”
I wanted to meet creatives doing dope work that might be inspiring to me
Where do you see Origin Studio House going?
DC: Origin is massive. It’s much more massive than the kernel of the idea I initially had. It’s bigger than that because it is communal. People feel it, and it expands. On the one hand, I think it will go off where the community stretches it. We share the concept, the outpouring of both ideas and questions in some ways, and the suggestions and offerings [are] so broad and rich that we haven’t even fully responded to them.
Austin, I think, is a wide canvas for a lot of opportunities. As a CEO, though, I mean, there is a strategy where we want to grow the business. I think the community is a big driver of that. It’s not egotistical work. There are other things you can do if you have a big ego but this is not the work you do. It’s a co-creation to me. We are solving a communal need. It’s not about us.”
BW: “I would love to see this in other cities that have similar issues. San Francisco, Portland, LA even. Tennessee. I think there are so many pockets of Blackness with other creatives who need a space, corporations to pour money into, and places built on capitalism to help recirculate dollars back into the community. So, I see it being a test. This is a test to see what can be done in other cities for Black creatives to stand on their own legs.”