The Midwest needs more resources to help creatives start their own businesses and keep them thriving, said Taylor Burris and James Spikes, who designed a one-stop art incubator to give artists’ innovation a fresh canvas.
The husband-and-wife team opened AI Hub — powered by IRIS Creative Projects Agency and with funding from The Porter House KC’s Alchemy Sandbox — in September in the Grace Real Estate Building in River Market to ease entry into the business world.
“We’re creating a place that answers the call that we needed starting out as entrepreneurs, specifically in creative entrepreneurship,” Spikes explained. “What do you need? What do you not have access to? What types of things could I have benefited from? We’re just trying to put that all into one place and business model and provide it for people.”
The AI Hub — which offers membership and day pass options — includes a photography studio, digital design lab, audio recording studio, apparel design hub, co-working space, and classes, Burris said, noting the space’s crossover amenities.
One member, for example, is a fashion designer who uses the software programs in the lab — which includes the full Adobe suite and 3D modeling programs — for designing, the apparel hub — including a sewing machine and dress form — for fittings, and then take photos in the dedicated studio — featuring a camera, tripod, lights, and backdrop.
Click here to learn more about the AI Hub.
“So instead of going from studio to studio, you just come here and get it all done,” she added. “We try to make it as easy and accessible as possible.”
Burris and Spikes — who met while attending HBCUs in Atlanta and moved to Kansas City in 2020 — also offer graphic design and marketing services through IRIS, which they founded in 2021 after merging their separate creative services businesses.
“There is a gap that’s happening between starting a business and actually scaling a business and making it successful,” Burris said. “Of course, we’re not experts. This is our first time having a physical brick and mortar, but at the end of the day, we have a lot of skills that can support these other businesses and really put them on the right track instead of just letting them fail. So as we grow, we try to help other businesses grow, as well. As much as we soak in, we want them to soak in.”
The couple said they also help members secure contracts to grow their businesses and set up events like Hub Talks — which are an immersion of art, music, and culture — and Sound Gallery — which is an underground music series, plus galleries featuring local artists.
“A lot of what we do is to put our community and our members on the map, basically,” noted Burris, who was a participant in this year’s HERImpact pitch competition and on The Blox, a locally-produced, globally-reaching entrepreneurship reality competition series.
RELATED: Meet the six competitors pitching for $50K in funding in HERImpact’s return to Kansas City
With the help of Donna Mandelbaum, the KC Streetcar Authority communication director and Art in the Loop board member, the AI Hub also has a partnership with Art in the Loop, Burris and Spikes shared, to train and provide resources for the local artists chosen to provide art along the streetcar route.
“They’re just very supportive of what we’re doing here,” Burris added. “We try to feed our pool to them — and vice versa — as much as possible.”
Kansas City and beyond
Spikes — who grew up in the South — and Burris — who is from Virginia but has family in Kansas City — moved to the metro during the pandemic for their daughter, who they call a Children’s Mercy baby. They quickly realized a place like the AI Hub was long overdue in this area, they said.
“Having a place that is a literal art incubator to cultivate your craft should be normal,” Burris said.
“I think what people miss — because they’re outside of the community in the Midwest and in Kansas City, more specifically — is that it’s a very artistic place and has a very thriving artistic and creative community,” Spikes continued. “I think that the marquee things like food and culture and sports may oversaturate what people know about Kansas City, but there are a lot of creative people and programs and minds that people don’t get a chance to see.”
They shared that they plan to continue to invest in and support the creative community in Kansas City and hope to expand the AI Hub to an arts campus and then eventually expand to other cities.
“We’re just excited to just help people transform as Kansas and Missouri transforms,” Burris added.