George Bayard came up in a recent discussion surrounding the Christmas vandalism of various Uptown businesses. Curious as to why Bayard no longer called Uptown his entrepreneurial home, I found articles indicating he had relocated his business, Bayard Gallery of Fine African American Art and Books, from the 1100 block of Wealthy St. SE to a new space on Kalamazoo Ave. in Boston Square. So, I decided to ask him. I found a fascinating individual, with a passion for art and education -- a passion that has endured for two decades, made a home in multiple neighborhoods and isn't ready to stop growing.
Bayard, who holds a degree in art education, is a Delaware native who moved to Michigan in 1988. He says his story as the owner of a gallery focusing on art by artists of color begins in 1989, when he and his wife, Deborah, opened a small gallery on Michigan St. at Union NE.
"From the very beginning, the focus was on art of color, primarily African American artists," he says.
Aunt Daisy's Front Porch, a shop selling African American books and gifts, moved in next door. Bayard remained on Michigan for about a decade before the building was sold.
"At that same time, development of the Wealthy Theatre District was going on and we had made an offer (on that location)," Bayard says. "The history there was that particular building was a longtime eyesore and trouble to the police for the gang and drug activity on that corner. When Peter Wege bought the building, he committed to the community that he wanted to have something that was culturally viable, something that was educational."
Bayard's gallery was the first business to move in, followed by Huntington Bank and the Grand Rapids Community College's Learning Corner. With more space, the gallery added 'and Books' to its name as Front Porch closed down and Bayard was able to absorb much of their product. The result was certainly a cultural and educational hub.
"We expanded to have an emphasis on African American authors, particularly local authors," he says. "At the same time, we were doing all types of other things -- framing, art appraisal, estate sales. We did art education and lectures."
Information on Bayard's educational lectures -- on topics ranging from African American art and art collecting, Kwanzaa, African artifacts, and the Underground Railroad show where African American art, records and memorabilia can be appraised -- can be found online.
Another eight years or so passed and the economy hit a low point. "The finances just weren't there," Bayard says. As the recession continued, Bayard made the decision to shut his doors.
"When we moved from Wealthy Street, it wasn't really the increase in rent that forced us out," Bayard clarifies. "We moved in under the Renaissance Zone Act, so we pretty much had free or reduced taxes for the eight years we were there. Our lease was very low and reasonable for those years -- even when it was increased, it wasn't increased substantially. It was the fact that the economy had turned. While I think art is essential, a lot of people just didn't see art as essential. In those days when gas was five dollars a gallon and people were losing their homes, buying art was not a prudent thing for people to do."
It was after the decision to close was announced that "people came out of the woodwork" with ideas for alternative options. Four months after he closed, he reopened in the Boston Square neighborhood. Bayard negotiated a mutual solution with GRCC, where the Learning Corner expanded into Bayard's old space and took over their rent.
Bayard changed names once more. Bayard Art, Consulting and Frame Shop is located at 1213 Kalamazoo Ave. SE in a smaller space with less overheard. Still focused on lectures and many of their service-orientated operations, Internet sales have become more prevalent, using Bayard's website, www.rareblackart.com
. While Bayard says Internet merchandising has its learning curve, they've sold a considerable amount. This, combined with lower costs of operation has resulted in a more profitable operation all around.
Of the thousands of pieces Bayard has handled, his cites one of his favorite pieces as an Inuit sculpture.
"Most Inuit pieces are small animals, but these were two wrestlers," he says. "They were huge pieces -- 15 inches tall, 20 inches wide -- and just so detailed."
In the gallery, its high price prevented sale, but once Bayard listed it for sale online, it sold rapidly to a man located in the Arctic Circle who had a museum located there.
Bayard, who is also a member of the Michigan Council for Art and Cultural Affairs, isn't finished moving quite just yet. He hopes to relocate once more, into a larger location, and has had some meetings discussing investment and grants.
This time, "we're looking at even a bigger impact into the community," Bayard says. "More of a community center where we not only have art, but performance -- maybe a stage and a movie theatre. Something that would help transcend from the art to performance art."
Bayard Art, Consulting and Frame Shop is open from 12-5 p.m., Mon-Sat. More information is located here
J. Bennett Rylah is the Managing Editor of Rapid Growth Media.
George Bayard (4)
George Bayard (2)
Photographs by Brian Kelly -All Rights Reserved