A renowned cultural art center firmly rooted in the Black community on Chicago’s near South Side, Little Black Pearl is a collective space where design blends with art and culture in the North Kenwood-Oakland neighborhood. Monica Haslip, founder, executive director and lead designer, reveals a passion for human potential in her approach to projects that exemplifies the organization’s long history. That’s the impetus for establishing a new collective space on the 47th Street corridor to round out a café and market and independent co-working lounge. “The Black Wall came out of self-reflection and the understanding that I wanted to offer spaces that were kind and generous and to invite people to feel a sense of belonging in an environment that is creative and inspiring,” says Haslip. Despite its dark color palette, the black-hued space is uplifting. The project’s appeal lies in the spatial continuum between street frontage interiors and functions—most importantly, in its power to connect, engage and transform the community.
You are creating community-building spaces at the intersection of hospitality, well-being, art-making, design and economic potential. Tell us about the Black Wall initiative and how it fits into the Little Black Pearl concept.
The Black Wall was designed to be connected to the Carver 47 Food and Wellness Market, a funky greenhouse bar, art gallery, farm table, and outdoor garden space, and the C47 Work and Experiment Lounge, a co-working-innovation space to inspire creativity, exploration and collaboration, in an effort to expand those areas and serve as a gathering spot for people who wanted to engage in a broader experience. The front part of our space is connected to the work we are doing around narrative change. It invites people to learn more about renowned Black agricultural scientist and environmentalist Dr. George Washington Carver. That work is directly connected to the Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation work we do in partnership with W.K Kellogg Foundation and other entities around the country that are engaged in racial healing work.
What services or benefits are provided to the community and entrepreneurs from this additional space?
The Black Wall is a multi-purpose space offering additional seating and dining for both the café and the work lounge, a rentable, fully equipped podcast studio and a gallery to introduce incredible artists to the community, including our artists-in-residence. The podcast studio provides access to equipment in an environment where people can have a voice and freely share their opinions and ideas.
What I love about it more than anything is that it is an opportunity for us to invite a diverse group of people to deeply connect with each other. I tell our team that we want to purposefully focus on creating spaces and experiences that reflect where we want to be and the kind of world we want to live in. It is an important part of what we’re trying to do here with all the Little Black Pearl spaces, including the Black Wall.
Is there a personal story or meaning that inspired the Black Wall initiative?
It was inspired by customers. During the pandemic, I had the opportunity to take a break. I live in the neighborhood, so I had a chance to look at the needs of the community. The Black Wall came out of self-reflection and the understanding that I wanted to offer spaces that were kind and generous, and to invite people to feel a sense of belonging in an environment that is creative and inspiring. People could come to make connections with neighbors that they wouldn’t typically share space with, including myself.
Where did the name come from?
When I first started designing the space, I painted the whole place black as a starting palette. I kept referring to the black wall before adding any other elements. The name was a natural evolution of that.
What’s your approach for creating and maintaining such a positive environment?
I am very intentional about bringing my best offering through love, kindness and generosity. I invite people to join me in the same spirit, whether it’s through employment or being customers. We make sure we are conscious of the wellness of folk who work with us: we encourage them to spend time with their families and to find their passion—especially those who have had rough experiences. We want to change that. This positive energy is then extended out into the customer experience.
How does your thirty-year experience of cultural advocacy shape your focus?
Like many folks who are founders of organizations, I’m trying to move a barrier out of the way—to make someone’s life better. I’m at a place where I have the benefit of sharing all the challenges and successes that I’ve moved through with other people who are building and dreaming, too.
What excites you for the future?
I’m excited to fully reopen Little Black Pearl and get back into the great program offerings that we had, especially music, concerts and outdoor festivals. We’ve had some really cool people here—great international musicians who were also able to do master classes and workshops. I’m also very excited about giving access to the glass blowing and ceramic studios to adults who are interested in continuing to explore the arts. That’s been my focus over the last year: to begin building out adult programming.
Yetta Starr, IIDA, is the founding principal of Starr Design Associates, Inc., a commercial interior design practice specializing in showroom, workplace, education, scientific and civic interiors as well as exhibits and visual communication projects. Starr has a passion for engaging with community-based initiatives supporting cultural identity and economic development. She is a contributing writer to print and online publications, reporting on industry trends and design’s impact on the human experience.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: starrdesign.net