Brian Owens

Singer, songwriter and activist Brian Owens is the founder and executive director of L.I.F.E. Arts, Inc., which recently announced the ‘AP for LIFE’ Creative Residency, thanks to a two-year, $200,000 funding commitment from American Portfolios Foundation, Inc.

American Portfolios Financial Service Inc. is putting its money where the arts are. The organization’s nonprofit arm, American Portfolios Foundation, Inc., recently made a two-year $200,000 funding commitment that will be applied to establishing the “AP for LIFE”Creative Residency with L.I.F.E. Arts, Inc.

“American Portfolios believe actions speak louder than words,” CEO Lon T. Dolber said in a statement. “We have always been committed to serving people and places we are connected to through our Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) efforts, which allow us to make positive change – not solely with words or donations, but by contributing time and resources.”

L.I.F.E. Arts Inc (Leadership, Innovation, Faith and Entrepreneurship), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that provides artistic resources, opportunities, mentoring and positive experiences to help students in underserved communities throughout Ferguson and the St. Louis metropolitan area to access consistent and localized programs, experiences and infrastructure.

The organization was founded by singer, songwriter and activist Brian Owens to be an outlet for creative response to the Ferguson unrest. Six years after Ferguson erupted in response to the police killing of Michael Brown, George Floyd’s death during arrest in Minneapolis has reinvigorated protests and a movement to end police abuse against Black people and systemic racism.

“I want to engage and involve myself with the people who are going to be giving voice to movements, issues, joys, pain, love and hurt,” said Owens, who also serves as executive director. “I want to align myself and provide them with the resources that they need to do that in a way that is productive, meaning it’s moving the narrative conversation and community forward.”

Thanks to funding from American Portfolios, a privately held independent broker/dealer that provides business solutions and support to financial advisors throughout America headquartered in Holbrook, New York, L.I.F.E. Arts, Inc. can once again offer a place for artistic expression amid a movement for change.

“We want to see the evolution of this ecosystem with some of the great partners that we have –  like Maryville University, T-Rex, M1 Bank and American Portfolios –  and really begin to expand that out so that we have an umbrella in the north county corridor,” Owens said. “Where all of those folks can come with no agenda other than to support and develop the now and next generation of leaders, artists and creators that will begin to tell the story of St. Louis in a way that can hopefully transform the nation.”

The partnership with American Portfolios and L.I.F.E. Arts Inc. began through an unlikely connection – a Facebook post.

Owens made a status update about his autistic 6-year-old son crawling over to the piano and climbing up toward the keys. A random person then reached out to him that just so happened to be Dolber.

“That turned into him figuring out I sing and that I’m an artist and he plays in a Motown band, and that’s how our relationship started,” Owens said.

Through the bond Dolber and Owens built through social media came the opportunity to cultivate the creative talents of young people.

L.I.F.E. Arts, Inc. is a part of L.I.F.E Creative Group, dedicated to providing youth with a platform where they can fully express and develop their creative voices. L.I.F.E. Arts’ mission is to foster youth and creative entrepreneurs in Ferguson, Missouri, home to the L.I.F.E. Arts headquarters.

The “AP for LIFE” Creative Residency programming will involve resident-student collaborations with members of The Butterfly Effect Project (Riverhead, New York), Gateway Music Outreach (St. Louis) and Girl Conductor (St. Louis). Together, through AP’s CSR platform, the firm and L.I.F.E. Arts engage young creatives and entrepreneurs as they develop new media and content designed to bring hope and healing across generations.

Funding for the “AP for LIFE” Creative Residency establishes five residencies for promising talent within the Ferguson community, including mentors and entrepreneurs: artist and singer-songwriter Malena Smith, director and speaker Timothy Moore, artist and producer Joshua “Paco” Lee, videographer and editor Mike Bland, and artist and creative Cecil McLendon.

Each of the residents receive a yearly stipend and a small investment account, which is managed personally by a dedicated AP-affiliated financial advisor who serves as their mentor with the aim to establish their financial legacy. “Our hope is that by being good corporate citizens, we help to make the world a better place for everyone,” Dolber said. “The goal of our work with LIFE Arts is to assist young entrepreneurs so that through good stewardship they, in turn, will foster talent within their communities and serve as role models for generations to come.”

The collaborations are designed to generate creative experiences for middle and high school students in both Ferguson and throughout Long Island, New York. Each of the residents will present their projects and experiences at the AP’s annual national conference, Connections 2020, to be held in October.

Owens, Dolber, LIFE Arts Associate Director Darius Williams, and several nationally recognized artists, entrepreneurs and business leaders serve as mentors.

“It’s about the training, it’s about the mentorship,” Owens said. “But it’s also about the economic development and realizing what we can do when we tell our own narrative stories and how we can industrialize that and put funds back into our community.”                                                                                    

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