Malene Barnett Is on a Mission to Create Opportunities for Black Artists and Designers Everywhere

The founder of the Black Artist and Designers Guild is making the industry a more inclusive space.

Malene Barnett
Photo: Alaric Campbell Photography

Since the beginning of her design career, Malene Barnett has been troubled by the lack of representation of Black talent and culture in the industry. "I should not have to open a magazine and say, 'Oh, they featured another Black designer,'" says Barnett. "It should not be a surprise anymore."

In 2018, Barnett took action and founded the Black Artists Designers Guild (BADG), a global platform that represents a curated collective of independent Black artists, makers, and designers across various art and design disciplines who are at the top of their respective fields. "I wanted the directory for representation," she explains. "I knew that there needed to be a platform that would display the accomplishments of Black creatives. There are no more excuses for how our work and voices are not represented."

The Mission

Barnett says that one of the central missions of BADG is to create visibility and opportunities for the members within the BADG community. "This is done through a directory of members," she explains. "We see our directory as a direct conduit between the media, manufacturers, developers, and homeowners. This exposure leads to increased traffic on our members' own websites, as well as opportunities for custom projects, exhibitions, speaking engagements, and brand partnerships."

Creating a Safe Space

By advancing a community of independent Black artists, makers and designers in creative industries, Barnett says BADG is building a more equitable and inclusive creative culture as a whole. "BADG is about including Black people who have traditionally been excluded from the field," she says. "We want to be part of the industry and the conversation, and to be recognized and respected for our contributions to art and design. It's our safe space to be us."

Rewriting the Narrative

Today, BADG's member base features over 80 different artists, architects, and designers, including interior tastemakers such as Sheila Bridges, Rayman Boozer (of Apartment 48), Breegan Jane, and Forbes Masters. "I am inspired every day by the 80 designers and artists who are a part of BADG and I look forward to seeing this list grow further," Barnett says. "We are committed to honoring our ancestral legacy in design, by taking ownership of our narrative, and by creating spaces to celebrate Black creativity and culture in design."

Winning Strategy

Like any successful businessperson, Barnett says overcoming the obstacles of launching a new platform required staying positive and focused on the tasks at hand. "Being an entrepreneur, I feel like I was ready for the challenges of starting an organization like BADG," she explains. "I have always only given myself the option to succeed. With this mindset, you don't think about how it is not going to work—you just keep figuring out how to make it work."

The Obsidian Virtual Concept House

Along with a growing online member directory, BADG is launching the Obsidian Virtual Concept House, a futuristic three-dimensional dwelling in Oakland, California that highlights the multiplicity of Black family identities, in January 2021. "Designed exclusively by 22 BADG creators—including architects, interior designers, fine artists, furniture makers, and lighting designers—Obsidian envisions a home set in 2025, illustrated through state-of-the-art renderings and visuals, focusing on innovation, technology, sustainability and futurism," Barnett explains. "Although Black people have historically interacted within the predominantly Euro-centric design construct, Obsidian centers on our stories."

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