With Abandoned Buildings as His Canvas, an Artist Empowers

By Mashaun D. Simon

Brandan “BMike” Odums always entertained the idea of becoming an artist simply because people told him he would be one.

“All my life, I was good at drawing and good at coloring, but I never knew what being an artist meant,” he told NBCBLK. “I felt if God blessed me with it, it would behoove me to use it.”

Yet, while everyone declared his purpose for him, and while he spent several years studying art in high school, there was one question that kept him from fully embracing the God given talent.

“Why,” he said. “Why would I be an artist?”

Today BMike, 31, has figured out the, “why” – creating art that is responsive to the community.

“’As long as you listen to the needs of the community you never run out of things to do’ an elder once told me,” he said. “Creating art that has responsibility. I started to see that when people started to respond to my art – it meant something to them. I began to see the power of art and how it brings people together.”

BMike began by spray painting portraits of people he looked up to in Black history on the walls of an abandoned housing project in the lower 9th ward of New Orleans. As a professional videographer, he would come across the often forgotten spaces throughout New Orleans post-Hurricane Katrina. He took notice of the graffiti art in the spaces and attempted to imitate what he saw.

Project BE, his first installment in the “BE” series was born. Four years and two installments later, BMike’s passion and purpose has culminated in Studio BE, an abandoned, 35,000 square foot warehouse in the Bywater neighborhood of New Orleans.

He has matured as an artist while also taking on being a curator, social activist, educator and historian.

A young gallery patron poses outside of Studio BE in New Orleans

“The projects began to teach me real life lessons about the power and importance of art. The Black arts movement has always existed in these moments of darkness,” he said. “The art was the light, the light of hope. It is an artist’s duty to reflect the times.”

The art pieces found in Studio BE are original pieces of art that cover an array of pieces from portraits to messages of empowerment to recreation of moments in Black history.

As he took notice of his why, others did as well. A chance encounter with Ava DuVernay led to Studio BE being featured in episode seven of the OWN drama, “Queen Sugar.”

BMike describes the moment in one word – Beautiful!

Director Ava DuVernay featured Studio BE being in episode seven of the OWN drama, “Queen Sugar.”

“It was a beautiful, beautiful environment and such great energy,” he said. “They came in that afternoon with the big Hollywood trucks, pointed the cameras and lights, and shot well into the night. I went to film school. For the longest I thought that is what I would be doing. It felt weird to be on the other side of it – to be in my space, to be the host of it.”

Studio BE is open through the spring, when the owners of the property are slated to begin construction to repurpose the property. In the meantime, the studio is open for tours fours days a week. And unlike the previous projects, all of the artwork in Studio BE has a price tag. BMike wanted to create sustainability with this project in addition to teaching young people the importance of seeing value in what they create.

What he will do once Studio BE ends is yet to be determined. He has a few ideas though.

“I can put all of the pieces in storage and wait for the right moment for it all to live again,” he said. “I do have this idea of doing a traveling exhibit. I can take a portion of the artwork to different cities and put them on display. I plan on using my paintbrush as much as possible. I really enjoy the process of creating something from nothing. I want to be able to that in as many spaces as possible, all over the world.”

Brandan Odums transformed an abandoned, 35,000 square foot warehouse in the Bywater neighborhood of New Orleans into Studio BE.

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