Shaymar Higgs & The Space: A Hidden Gem at Beltway Plaza Mall

October 6, 2018

 

This month, I had the pleasure of catching up with an old friend of mine from the DC area, Shaymar Higgs who I’ve known for almost a decade now. As a fellow black creative, I’ve always admired his skills and ambition, which inspired me to take my writing more seriously. The Space is my non-profit pick for October, and I’d love for you guys to learn a little more about Shaymar and his passion!

 

The SPACE (Sharing Positive Artistic & Creative Energies) was created and daily managed by Shaymar Higgs. Although, The SPACE was motivated by his experience as a member of the Greenbelt Art Advisory Board. While the Art Advisory Board focus’ on the preservation of art, Shaymar directly surveyed and focused on the needs of the community to express themselves artistically. Following a one-day spray paint, art workshop the community demanded more alternative art skills and the knowledge that Shaymar had to offer. After taking the action, and designing a well-detailed proposal, management of Quantum Companies (mall owners) decided to turn The Pop-Up Art Space into a three-month labor of love! Since the last meeting, we will soon be signing a permanent lease to remain as a staple of Greenbelt's community, where these services are needed in Beltway Plaza Mall.

A well-rounded lover of the arts Shaymar is highly talented and skilled in Hand Embroidery, Textiles, Ceramics, Glazing, Skateboarding, Graffiti & Street Art, Photography, Art Curation, Fundraising, Painting, and Pastry Arts. Shaymar was once offered a business incubator spot from Macy's, but his desire to work in his community and further create only one-of-one pieces he decided to decline the offer. Shaymar went on to design pieces for celebrity clients, and teach mixed media art, African American History, cooking and nutrition classes to the underrepresented communities throughout Maryland and Washington, DC.

As a graduate of Baltimore International College, Shaymar entered the professional world with an Associate of Applied Science degree in Professional Baking & Pastry. Working as a Mentee with Certified Master Pastry Chef Jan Bandula; further learning wedding cake, chocolate, and candy skills. After several tests, Shaymar earned his position as a founding member of the Culinary Competition Team. Years later, working his way up to Assistant Pastry Chef in a fine dining restaurant, Shaymar developed a gluten allergy, which forced him to leave the professional culinary field. Pursuing a career in art and activism was a no-brainer. While in college Shaymar, as a member of the colleges Service Learning Team, he built the partnership with the GLCCB (Gay & Lesbian Community Center of Baltimore) which initiated several community-based activities and health services for the students. Shaymar never stopped working as an artist. While in Culinary School, his works were selected for exhibition at galleries and businesses such as The Rockstar Showroom and London Boutique.

During a pop-up event called "The Home" in Washington, DC he met the manager of The Fridge Gallery who was in a bind. She needed a cummerbund sewn to a wedding train that she wanted to wear that night. Shaymar, who always carries needle and thread with him, hand-sewed the upcycled dress much faster than the woman could believe. After later meeting the manager and developing a great relationship, he was offered an intern to open their retail store, “The Mini Fridge", to later becoming Gallery Assistant then Events Coordinator, staging, managing, event coordinating, and assisting curating the space from 2011-2018, with a few breaks of International travel and artist creative getaways in between.

Shaymar committed himself to the arts, even more, when he joined Project Create, being found during his tenure while at The Fridge, several of the board members purchased ceramic and fashion pieces. Later becoming regular clients and offering a position as a Teaching Artist where he stayed from around 2013-2015. Though Project Create, Shaymar showed his community engagement, outreach, and community-building skills through creative placemaking. To eventually have a position created, Community Engagement Coordinator since Shaymar was also being instrumental in being in the public, keeping the volunteer staff organized, and initiating major partnerships that still exist today. Shaymar built partnerships with organizations such as The Fridge, The National Symphony Orchestra, the Rhode Island School of Design ( RISD ), Sasha Bruce YouthWorks, and ARCH Development Corporation to name a few.

While working as an art educator for community organizations such as the Prince George’s African American Museum & Culture Center, and volunteering with Faith Temple No. 2 with their monthly food distribution programs, Shaymar was instrumental in the design, creation, and fundraising of the Cosca Regional Skateboard Park in Clinton, Maryland. From 2009 -2013 Shaymar was instrumental in raising funds, petitioned, and working on Policy that would ensure the parks creation and future growth. Through his grassroots organization, then known as Dude Skateboards, $750,000 was raised through State match grants and Parks & Rec funds to bring this community seed to life. Not only is it a skateboard park, Cosca Skate Park, is also the only place you can legally master the art of stenciling, murals, and graffiti productions in Maryland. In addition, at the park, Shaymar and any of the other Artists present will offer skateboard and street art technique and skills at the Skate Park for free. Adding to his philosophy of full cultural immersion, Shaymar was responsible for hosted cultural excursions with organizations such as The DC Wheels, The Kennedy Center, and SpacyCloud to name a few.

After the successful launch of the Cosca Skate Park Shaymar became a sought-after Consultant for similar projects like the completed Walker Mill Skate Park and the Southern Art Aquatic & Recreational Center (SAARC) where he has been on the design committee for the last five-plus years. The SAARC project has a projected date of opening in January 2019, with a current $47 million dollar budget.

Through his connections and people-skills, the opportunity to visit South Asia became available in 2015 and Shaymar found himself backpacking through Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam with a friend for over 30 days. Building business relationships, scouting materials, and bringing back lots of art materials that are not available in the United States! Shaymar returned again, largely alone, in 2016 for 14 days to get patches made and meeting with an Artist friend from Washington, DC who lived in Bangkok, Thailand. The last visit, in 20017, Shaymar was a tour guide to a friend through China, Thailand, and Cambodia! While on an excursion, his favorite things to do are to teach English to children, update his travel and design blog with the food, art, and architecture, and write poetry books about his travel perspective of the experiences.

In high school, Shaymar was in Air Force JROTC, a program full of structure and guidelines. Since 9th grade, serving on Wing Staff as the Technology Commander and later Fundraising Commander, being the youngest in the school's history to serve on WIng Staff! As the oldest of five, and a child of a 100% Disabled Veteran, he was able to navigate through the program but still emerge with thoughts of “The artist is not created for a corporate environment, and the corporate environment is not designed for creative thinking. There is a grey area". While in high school, Shaymar had several teachers who created what is now called “Safe Spaces”, namely the late Mrs. Donna Rusinko, who taught ceramics class where she allowed Shaymar to create as beyond the boundaries, testing theories, and entering several competitions together. Creating the "Art as The Safe Space" mantra in life. The SPACE is a hybrid of the re-creation of the days when his mother allowed him to convert her basement and later 2-car garage into a ceramics, photography, and painting studio. Allowing anyone to safely and individually learn the craft and their journey. Parents will know their kids are having fun and safe while creating, learning critical thinking skills, and possibly jumpstarting a new business.

While the city and other officials continued to struggle with the obstacles, out of pocket costs and bureaucracies of opening any sort of public art or community programming, the owners of Beltway Plaza Mall, Quantum Companies, immediately understood the vision of The SPACE, and the importance of having access to FREE high quality art supplies, web development, and computer programming for all ages. With having a non-profit 501(c)(3) fiscal sponsor, The SPACE represents Shaymar’s concept to create a hybrid system to move forward non-profit systems who are having troubles competing on their own. Companies such as Artist & Craftsman of Hyattsville, Maryland, Jersey Mikes of Greenbelt, and several highly-qualified computer programs have donated supplies and services thus far. This week, Google has reached out to expand the program with better computers and 3D printers.

Shaymar's mother taught him that knowledge was the only thing that can’t be taken away from you… materials (cars, houses, etc) can be taken away, but not what you have learned. Shaymar is proud to share his knowledge with the community, allowing extended hours and direct contact and access to The SPACE for those suffering from mental health issues that self-medicate with art.

Now families, students, and individuals can come together, have a safe space to relax, unwind, and master a craft that could boost their new career. There is something for everyone, and with the generous computer donations, Shaymar has booted open-source Operating Systems and software to show the community that there is an entire world of free software that is comparable or even better than the big businesses that we are traditionally sold. There is so much free knowledge out there, the individual just has to know where to find it.

“My Ancestors Taught Me Everything That I Know.” -Shaymar Higgs

 

Visit www.shaymarwh.com/ to donate to The Space! 

 

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