What if there was a place where if you had an idea, there was a space to make it happen? Anime club? Yep. Basic sewing? Absolutely. Nonprofit board meeting? Of course. Plant swaps? Why not?
At Briarwood Arts Center (BAC), what may seem impossible becomes possible. BAC is building a bigger table for entrepreneurs and hobbyists to explore an interest and for the community to gather. From the “Creative Kitchen” with sewing supplies, a Cricut vinyl cutting machine, and candle-making supplies to “Cole’s House,” a music studio and lab, BAC makes ideas accessible for those wanting to hone their skills. And that’s just the start of it. BAC hosts events across the spectrum, from the ACT Prep Club to Anime and basic gardening, Afro-Carribean dance to youth mentorship meetings.
And, if you don’t see an interest covered, founder Stephen Brown says, just wait. “The space continues to evolve based on what the community needs and wants it to be.”
Brown first noticed that 614 Briarwood Drive had been empty for a while during the COVID-19 pandemic. Living nearby in the Briarwood neighborhood, he passed it often. His family noticed it, too. Inspired by Bill Strickland’s “Make the Impossible Possible,” Brown understood that stepping outside his comfort zone and getting out of his own way would lead to a greater outcome. Brainstorming what this space could be, the idea for BAC was born.
“Even as challenges came up, I remember praying, ‘Okay God, if you want this to happen, it’s going to happen,'” Brown said.
After getting the center up and running, Brown ran into his next challenge: fundraising and nonprofit management. “I’ve spent so many years on the programming side of things,” he said. “I’m just now seeing behind the curtain.”
With the creation of two funds at the Community Foundation for Mississippi, the Briarwood Arts Foundation Fund and Briarwood Arts Foundation Endowment Fund, Brown recognizes BAC is starting out on the right foot and getting the back-end support from CFM he needs. Not to mention, the two organizations’ vision for community-building is very similar.
“I think what makes us stand out is that we’re relationship-based and not transactional,” he said. “We just build relationships through natural, organic networking. Being genuine has helped us continue to build, and I know that will only grow.”
Since opening his fund at CFM, Brown has seen CFM’s community work up close as part of an advisory group for CFM’s grants committee. “I got to witness the process from start to finish to see how CFM works with nonprofits, even if their grant proposals aren’t quite fully where they need to be. It wasn’t just like, ‘Yes, you’re getting money. No, you’re not getting anything.’ Instead, it was like, ‘Well, maybe it’s not good for this, but we know of other people in our network who may have funding for this. Let’s provide you with some technical support to assist you moving forward.’ It was a cool professional development experience.”
Since opening, BAC has taken Brown’s goal of creating systems to better people’s lives to heart. The center regularly has guests from across the metro area and as far away as Kosciusko and Grenada.
“It’s been a welcome thing to see this much community support in such a short period of time,” he said.