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Open Sessions Builds a Community of Black Creatives in Kansas City

'For Us By Us'

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Above image credit: Breasia Hayes is the host and creator of Open Sessions, an event for black creatives. (Contributed | Jack Raybuck)

The Buffalo Room at 817 Westport Road is dimly lit on a Tuesday night as jazz music blares and waitresses shuffle around to take orders. A woman stands at the entrance to greet and hug people as they enter. 

There’s a crowd of about 15 people on this particular night. On one side of the room, toddlers tumble and play while a crowd on the opposite side bobs to the band on stage, which is near a makeshift art gallery. The space has become a medley of art, music and poetry. 

“I’m a firm believer in everyone who’s supposed to be here will be here,” Breasia Hayes said, flashing a smile as she approached the stage to kick off the program. Hayes is the host of Open Sessions, a bi-weekly open mic night in Kansas City, Missouri. 

For her, a self-professed creative, Open Sessions has gradually become less of a passion project and more of a purpose. She quit her job at a local juice shop last month to pursue her creative work full time. In addition to hosting Open Sessions, Hayes is also a part of Fearless Female, a women’s committee in Kansas City that promotes women empowerment. 

Add being a mother to a 5-year-old daughter to Hayes’ to-do list. But the 23-year-old said learning the art of patience has significantly helped with creating a balance for her life. 

“My purpose is to create, inspire and to influence,” she said. “Those are three main things in which I feel like if I’m doing them on a consistent daily basis, then I’ve done my job today. It’s very much of a challenge, but I balance it through the family support that I do have.”

Since May, Open Sessions has created an atmosphere in which artists can feel loved and embraced by audiences. The night usually starts with a jam session for Open Sessions’ house band before diving into a night filled with poetry or musical performances. Each session highlights one featured artist, who performs their work at the end, and one visual artist, who showcases their work and sells their art throughout the night. 

Hayes is a natural host. She talks to the group as though they were guests in her home and reassures them that tonight’s program will be great no matter how many people are present. She eases nervous performers and urges the audience to applaud. Their claps crescendo with each performance, amplified by the people trickling in late. 

This space, this night, is filled with a predominantly black audience. But it’s uncommon to have spaces like Open Sessions in Kansas City that fully embrace art produced by black people, Hayes said. 

“When it comes to Kansas City’s art scene, it can be very whitewashed,” Hayes said. “I feel there aren’t many platforms that have been created by the city itself for us. We are filling that void by creating those spaces and not waiting for people to create it for us. It’s for us by us, in a way.”

Such sentiment was the impetus to create Open Sessions, which started last May. Open Sessions is held every other Tuesday night at The Buffalo Room. Hayes said she felt inspired to host her own open mic after attending similar events held by black creatives in Kansas City. 

As an artist, she wanted to help budding artists “come into their artistry as I’m coming into mine” and carve out more spaces for the community. 

“Your audience is only going to reflect the energy of the space that you’re creating,” Hayes said. 

Tiana Jones found a place to show art centered on positive motifs of the black community at Open Sessions. (Contributed | Mike Jones)

Tiana Jones, a painter from Kansas City, frequently showcases her art at Open Sessions and, before life got busy, she was a regular attendee. She enjoyed being in that creative atmosphere.

“It’s a great opportunity as an artist because it gives you a chance to not only do work show your work for free,” Jones said, who is an alumna of the University of Central Missouri. “There aren’t many spaces where you can go and show your work for free. It’s also a different setting, too.”

Jones said she hadn’t really shown her work until attending Open Sessions. Jones’ art is mainly centered on depicting black people, which she didn’t think was possible in the art world until she was exposed to the portraits painted by Kehinde Wiley, who famously painted former President Barack Obama for the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.. 

“I want people to see black people in a beautiful light and (not) judge us from the things they hear about us in the news,” Jones said.

Hayes said she hopes to continue to inspire artists like Jones through Open Sessions. She not only wants to grow the brand outside of Kansas City, but also hopes to create a platform that is more focused on artists networking with each other so they can continue to build a strong community for black creatives.

“I want to really work hard to build our presence here in Kansas City so that I can have the capacity to take it to Chicago or to New Orleans to make it a creative platform for black artists and for artists in general,” Hayes said. “Once I feel like I’ve done my part with Open Sessions, I want to be able to pass it on to other artists to show other people that they can have that platform.”

Being a full-time creative while being a young adult has been the biggest challenge for Hayes because she isn’t always sure about what she’s doing.

“I know I don’t have it all figured out, but I know that I don’t have to. It’s a work in progress,” Hayes said. “I’ve created a space where love is spread all the time. I make it very clear that people aren’t going to see a good show if the love I’m giving to the audience isn’t being reflected.”

She added: “I want everyone who’s coming on stage or showing their work to feel like they’re Beyoncé.”

DeAsia Paige is a journalism student at the University of Kansas and freelance culture writer. Follow her work on @deasia_paige

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