The sound of djembe welcomed Baltimoreans from neighborhoods nearby and supporters from as far as Florida to the sidewalk at the intersection of Howard and Fayette streets in Baltimore’s Downtown — all to support three Black cofounders’ shared mission to provide the next generation of media and entertainment industry professionals with training using STEM-based workforce education.
Intending to bring vibrancy to Downtown Baltimore and foster a pipeline of tech-savvy youth who keep contributing to Baltimore’s tech and arts workforce, MRI Studios celebrated the grand opening of its new location at 20 N. Howard Street. This effort was enabled by support from the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore’s (DPOP) Black-Owned & Occupied Storefront Tenancy (BOOST) Program. It offers space for young Baltimoreans to take programs held by the affiliated Media Rhythm Institute, from which MRI Studios gets its acronym.
Getting a BOOST
“Our network and partnerships have grown, not just through promotional opportunities and visibility, but also by being invited to tables where we typically wouldn’t have a seat as Black founder,” stated MRI cofounder Tiffany Welch in an interview with Technical.ly ahead of the opening.
When asked about the impact of being a part of the Downtown BOOST program on MRI and its opening, Welch highlighted: “Their support has been instrumental in guiding us through the process of transitioning into a physical location. They have assisted us with various aspects, including negotiating leases, designing and building out the space and determining the functionality of the space. They have also provided assistance with staffing and employee-related matters. Essentially, they have covered everything that a small business needs.”
“In the long run, the program has been immensely helpful in terms of skills development and visibility,” she added.
Much ado about something big for small business
Dignitaries and staff from the DPOB, including President Shelonda Stokes, came to support the culmination of a long and worthwhile journey: the opening of this skills hub. In her remarks during the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Stokes drove home its urgency by sharing some concerning facts from the Michigan Minority Supplier Development Council.
“It will take 333 years for minority [Black] businesses to bridge the gap and achieve revenue parity,” she said. “Isn’t that an astonishingly long timeline? However, we refuse to let that become a reality. This is what BOOST represents. It’s why we are committed to doing things differently in Downtown Baltimore because, unfortunately, businesses in downtowns across the country are often underrepresented. So, as a collective, we have a unique opportunity to rewrite that narrative.”
The Baltimore City Department of Housing and Community Development and the Maryland Department of Commerce conferred the MRI team several citations and certificates for their hard work leading up to the opening. City Councilmember Eric Costello and State Senator Antonio Hayes also attended to champion the opening of a new small business in Baltimore’s downtown.
What MRI had up its sleeve
In a pre-festivities interview with Technical.ly, cofounder Deverick “DevRock” Murray emphasized the accessibility of the new space by sharing his transit experience.
“I just hopped off the light rail, you know? I slid right in here,” he said, noting the over-a-dozen bus stops adjacent to MRI’s new facility. He also cataloged the various music production software platforms and other tech in which young people can be trained in at this new space.
“Our doors are open to youth who aspire to master production software like Pro Tools, Logic, Studio One and FL Studio, as well as various iMac products,” he said. “In addition, we utilize IBM ThinkPads and Lenovo laptops. Surprisingly, even some of the second graders we currently serve in Baltimore City schools, such as Lakeland or Westport Elementary/Middle Schools, already possess the skills to operate DSLR cameras and skillfully handle boom mics.”
With the newly renovated CFG Bank Arena located just feet away, students from MRI are presented with a multitude of possibilities. Who’s to say they couldn’t open for artists or work behind the scenes, leveraging the valuable skills they have acquired through various MRI Programs?
These programs include iDance, iRhyme and Channel Me Media — an enriching program that hones skills in filmmaking, photography, journalism and digital media content creation. Additionally, there is Expressa, a program specially designed to cater to Spanish-speaking youth in Highlandtown and beyond. Lastly, there is iSpin, a music education program that offers hands-on lessons, covering introductory and advanced techniques in the art of DJing.
Creating a pipeline of talent and impact
Teaching artists and technologists emphasized the significance of MRI’s opening during the ribbon cutting and shared personal stories about how it has shaped their lives. Ms. Kae, a prominent instructor in the MRI iRhyme program, spoke passionately about the tremendous impact of MRI on her own life.
“I was once a student who benefited from the program, and now I’ve grown to become Ms. Kae,” she said. “It brings me great pride to be on the other end of the pipeline, where I can impart knowledge and inspiration to my students. Thanks to programs like MRI, I have been involved in education since I was 16. It’s my hope that we all recognize the immense cultural richness within our community and understand that MRI will continue to serve as an incubator and an essential resource for nurturing that culture.”
In an email to Technical.ly, Bre’Asia Comegys, an MRI student, discussed the impact of being enrolled in MRI and its events.
“Working with them has helped me learn new and different things, such as interviewing people from diverse backgrounds and experiences,” Comegys said. “It has been an opportunity that has allowed me to discover more about myself and learn about my own life in Baltimore.”
During the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Mr. Trent, a beloved Black male teacher known affectionately by the MRI and school communities at Vanguard Collegiate Middle School, impressed everyone in attendance with his dance moves learned in iDance. Jalen, an 8th grader, showcased his skills alongside Mr. Trent.
“This is actually my first time wearing a suit,” Mr. Trent said. “It’s a completely new experience for me. MRI has brought me to do things that I never imagined I would do. Teaching was something I never thought I would pursue, but now I have established a strong connection with the staff and students who love me just as I love them.”
This week is filled with exciting events for MRI, beginning with the Bromo Art Walk on Thursday evening. Attendees are invited to explore MRI Studios along with other open studios, exhibits and performances from 5-9 p.m.
Knowledge is power!
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