Sarah Kuenyefu and her son, Mafakui Searcy, pose behind the counter of Searcy's art center, Fourtunehouse. Credit: Jamie Nesbitt Golden/Block Club Chicago

GRAND BOULEVARD — Makafui Searcy was a 17-year-old King College Prep junior when he began laying the foundation for his dream: an art center rooted in community building and committed to nurturing the next generation of artists.

Six years later, Searcy’s center, Fourtunehouse at 4410 S. Cottage Grove Ave., is thriving and on the verge of celebrating its first anniversary. The center is next to the Sarah Kuenyefu Collection, a boutique owned and operated by Searcy’s mother, a 30-year creative entrepreneur.

Fourtunehouse is a creative community space where artists can learn more about the business and help each other navigate the industry. Searcy has hosted everything from open mics to art exhibitions geared towards young people, though all are welcome, he said. Next door, his mother sells handcrafted, African diaspora-inspired clothing and accessories.

Together, mother and son are working toward a shared goal: creative and generational wealth that will help their loved ones — and the world around them — for years to come.

Fourtunehouse opened in 4400 Grove last summer. Owner Makafui Searcy has been using his art center as a space to build community. Credit: Jamie Nesbitt Golden/Block Club Chicago

Searcy didn’t know what to expect in 2017, when he shared a Google document he’d used to brainstorm ideas on Twitter. He assumed no one would pay attention — but the feedback and encouragement from his followers was almost immediate, he said.

“I was in the house on a summer night in July 2017, just thinking through ideas. I put them in the Google Doc and put them out into the world. It was really refreshing to see how many people gravitated towards that and shared their input,” Searcy said.

Initially, Searcy thought Fourtunehouse would focus on artist management. But as people’s suggestions came rolling in, another idea took shape. It seemed more people were interested in learning more about the business side of art, and they wanted help, Searcy said.

Coming from a family of artists, Searcy had watched as his older brother tried to navigate the music business with little help or guidance. And since he knew of other local artists with similar struggles, creating a clearinghouse where people could learn from industry veterans — and each other — seemed like the better plan, he said.

Searcy used $500 of his savings to launch Fourtunehouse and was soon hosting events all over the city to build the brand, collaborating with venues like the Pilsen Art House to produce content like the Speak Your Peace project, a series in which Black artists share their personal messages with the larger community, which really resonated with people, Searcy said.

Speak Your Peace took off so well that Searcy and his team now host the series at the art center.

“A big part of creating a creative company was really just to provide a space for myself and my peers who were exploring entrepreneurial pathways as artists interested in the business of art. So we started to curate our programming from there,” said Searcy, who graduated from Loyola University with an international business degree in 2022.

Searcy noticed the “For Rent” signs on the empty storefront windows of 4400 Grove when it first opened three years ago as he happened to be in the neighborhood.

Kuenyefu was in the process of closing her boutique, then based in Woodlawn, when her son approached her with the idea of moving her store to the new development. It was 2020, the beginning of the pandemic, and after 15 years in the storefront, Kuenyefu was ready to call it.

Searcy told his mom he’d heard developers were looking for Black-owned businesses for the new mixed-use development. He thought it would be the perfect place for for her, they said.

And him too, it turned out.

“I could tell the heartbeat of what he and his friends wanted to do, and I had to think a little bit in terms of being able to provide a safe space because I wanted them to be able to express themselves in a safe way. Having this spaces allows them to do that and be right next door,” said Kuenyefu, who moved here from Ghana to pursue her fashion career in the early ’90s.

Fourtunehouse has collaborated with other businesses in the city, recently teaming up with JoeFreshGoods, 1500 Tequila and the Chicago White Sox for an event. Credit: Provided.

Mother and son moved into the new development at the same time, both helping one another with the construction and receiving an assist from Searcy’s father.

Being one of the early pioneers in what is becoming Bronzeville’s renaissance was also something to consider, said mother and son.

Kuenyefu and Searcy said they didn’t want to wait to see if the Obama Presidential Center would bring the economic boost local leaders had promised, and they also feared they would eventually be pushed out. Besides things seemed to be booming northward, with the cultural revival of the 43rd Street corridor bringing landmarks like The Forum back to life, they said.

Searcy linked up with music industry veterans such as VSOP Studio’s Matt Hennessy — who’s worked with Beyonce and Jay-Z — to offer aspiring artists a look into the world of audio engineering and sonic storytelling. Participants take a field trip to Hennessy’s West Town studio to learn how to use DJ software and how to use their studio time wisely.

The beauty of Fourtunehouse’s space lies in its chameleon-like adaptability: It can host an intimate art exhibition one day and a standing-room-only concert the next, said Searcy.

The spartan design also lends itself to this purpose, he added. Artwork decorating the storefront’s stark white walls is representative of creatives across the African diaspora, and a clothing rack tucked into a corner of the room features graphic tees and sweatshirts bearing the Fourtunehouse logo.

That is how Searcy likes it for now as he quietly builds an enterprise he hopes will not only impact the South Side, but the world. Clothing and art sales keep the doors open, but the entrepreneur is ready to explore other funding resources to help, including grants.

“We’ve had events where people were lined up out the door and around the corner, and we’ve had events where maybe five to six people were in the room. It’s going to be an experience regardless, Searcy said.

The entrepreneur and his team are gearing up for an art exhibition next month exploring the concept of water justice and the Black relationship to water, with film screenings and art to offer a crash course on the subject. Ideally, people will come away from the exhibit with actionable steps to take with them, Searcy said.

“We’re looking to invite organizations and nonprofits that do work around water justice, as well. We’re five minutes away from the lake, so it’s not like we’re not impacted by the state of one of the largest bodies of water in the country. I think it’ll be a great learning opportunity,” Searcy said.

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