For the past 50 years, the building at 727 Leonard St NW housed a windowless, closed-off adult bookstore, of which its neighboring community was not a fan. However, over the past year, the building was purchased, renovated, and transformed into an interactive art gallery, now known as Muse GR
, by Stephen Smith, who owns photography company Executive Visions and works in Grand Rapids Public Schools, and Taylor Smith, writer for the marketing and communications team of World Renew. The ribbon cutting was held on Friday, May 18th at 12pm.
Originally, Stephen says, the sole use of the building was for a photography studio that would be broken into three different spaces in which to conduct photoshoots.
“We saw the need for that because all the places [photography studios] that were open would close down after a while,” says Stephen. “I would interview the owners and they would say the overhead was too high. So that’s kind of how we got the idea—if we can leverage the cost by actually buying the property, as opposed to renting it out, then we wouldn’t have to be worried about closing down.”
Additionally, the couple wanted to create a space where everyone would feel comfortable.
“The need, I would say, came out of us being a part of different studios around the area and Stephen doing photography, and not feeling like we were always welcomed,” says Taylor. “Or, feeling like there wasn’t a community feel to these different spaces. We felt limited. We don’t want people to feel like they’re excluded.”
Throughout the process of reconstructing both the physical appearance and the conceptual use of the space, the two took business classes to perfect their business model, sought out an architect and construction company who best complemented how they wanted to bring their vision to life, and surveyed different photographers about their thoughts on the space.
Many of the resources and support they received were from local organizations, including Grand Rapids Area Black Businesses
, who lent advice about navigating city policies and the commercial side of real estate, and Start Garden
, who recently awarded Stephen and Taylor funding from their 100 Ideas
Eventually, the primary focus of the space shifted from being used as a photography studio, to being used for an art gallery and a place to hold events, workshops, classes, and more. Stephens says they want the community to generate ideas for events to host in the space in the future.
In the near-future, they are looking to collaborate with various artists, both local and national, to create a platform for pop-up art, live art, and speaker series.
Additionally, they hope to change the community’s perception of how they are able to create something of value to themselves and their community.
“There are things people want to change in the city or to add to the city, and they have the ideas, but they don’t realize they have the power to do it,” says Taylor. “So I just hope it encourages other young people to do what’s in their heart.”
On June 1, Muse GR will open its doors from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. to the public.