Among the many faces we’ve seen in fashion, only one stands out among the rest. Virgil Abloh, the face of streetwear and an arbiter of design, has changed the scope of how we view and experience the art of self-expression through clothing. Starting as an intern at Fendi in 2009, Abloh began the trajectory of his career alongside Kanye West, which later led him to create one of the most-shopped empires in the fashion industry: Off-White.

Following his death last year, Abloh’s influence has transcended beyond fashion. He left a leading precedent for other aspiring Black artists, creatives and designers to follow their passions on their own terms, as well as passing down the mantle for creatives to take up much-needed space. In honor of Virgil’s work and commitment to further diversify a rather exclusive industry, writer, curator and the #BlackVisionaries creative chair Antwaun Sargent partnered with Instagram and the Brooklyn Museum coinciding with the museum’s opening of the Virgil Abloh: “Figures of Speech” exhibition to help budding Black professionals further their careers within the creative industry.

“Virgil wanted to make sure that art and commerce were not separated,” Sargent said. “He really wanted people to be a part of the larger vision of fashion and artform,” he continues. “For me, and hopefully, for you, this is really about highlighting the people that are doing the work to further progress our communities. This exhibition and the work we’re doing with Instagram really highlights and expands upon this notion.”

Sargent’s partnership would provide $650,000 in grants to Black visionaries around the country. Among the recipients include designers, artists and small business owners who are changing the scope of design through their respective industries. The program honored five Black designers last year and will award 10 #BlackVisionaries grants this year.

In addition to the five $100,000 Visionary Small Business Grants that will be provided, and with the support of Meta Open Arts, #BlackVisionaries is also awarding five $30,000 Emerging Visionary Grants to artists and designers who tell stories in experimental ways. “Most folks who don’t have traditional pathways into spaces like the arts and design just need opportunity,” Sargent said. “A grant like this could mean a world of opportunity.”

We got a chance to sit down with Sargent to discuss the trajectory of Abloh’s career, the work he’s doing with Instagram and the Brooklyn Museum, and his own journey to success.

Blavity: Tell me a little bit about your background. How did you get involved in the art industry?

Antwaun Sargent: “When I moved to New York a decade ago when I was 21, I just sort of liked being involved within every facet of art and the concept of design. From seeing exhibitions and meeting artists, I was like, ‘oh, I want to be doing this,’ — to do something in art. And then, I started writing. I was actually a writer for a long time, and then the writing sort of led to art curations.

“It was really sort of a real natural progression. Just sort of seeing or hanging out with artists and then being like, ‘oh, well, you know, I’ll write about it.’ And then, I was a writer and I wrote for the Times and all of those places like the New Yorker and all. And then, I wrote some books, and then somewhere between, I was like, ‘oh, maybe I should start curating exhibitions.’ And so it was just a real natural sort of transition.”

Blavity: Why did you want to partner with Instagram and the Brooklyn Museum for this program?

AS: “It’s really funny actually. I’m the curator of the show, but I also helped to find the Black Design Visionaries, and the creative chair is what they call me. So when I decided to run the program with them, I really wanted to focus on young Black creatives, and I wanted them to see the show before anybody else.

“Overall, the mission of Black Design Visionaries is to ensure that Black designers and young Black designers have the right resources. To design the worlds that they want us to live in. And that was Virgil. That was all Virgil wanted. And so just, it was just really natural in that way, and it all just came into fruition exactly how it was meant to come into fruition.”


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Blavity: Can you tell me a little bit about how programs like this are further diversifying the industry by championing Black talent to further Abloh’s legacy?

AS: “I think that what sort of carries on his legacy really is the sort of continuation of Black designers actually working. So this program is just putting real resources behind that idea. And the goal here is to make sure that designers aren’t only designing just one dress for the Met Gala, never to be seen or heard from again.

“But to rather push their careers even further so that we will continue seeing their names. That’s been my mission, particularly with this program, is to make sure that there are more Virgil’s and that there are more Black designers to have the opportunity for their ideas to be supported.

Blavity: I think the Black community more than ever needs hope. How do you feel Virgil has instilled that when he was alive and even after his passing?

AS: “Virgil was extraordinarily optimistic. He was really an optimist. From the jokes he chose to tell to the idea of like continuously making and creating genius ideas. And so he had to be completely optimistic to continue creating. To continue pushing forward because creation is hopeful, you know?”

Blavity: Is there any advice that you can give to aspiring Black professionals looking to make their way into the industry?

AS: “Be committed to your ideas and also form a community of creatives who are also committed to their ideas.”

Blavity: What does the #Blackvisionaries program do to help grant recipients expand upon their work?

AS: “So we give them financial resources, and they’re unrestricted. They can use that money the way that they need to, to get to the next step as a creator. And then, the other thing is mentorship and opportunities.

“So if they need someone, if they need to be connected, let me connect you. And one of the designers from the grant is actually designing directly with the Brooklyn Museum to create the logos for Virgil’s exhibition pop-up show, so it’s about community, too. It’s community mentorship and financial resources, which I think helps to actually grow the creative vision.”


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Blavity: Do you think the art industry has become more inclusive? How do you think this grant can help us further diversify the industry?

AS: “We’re still trying to get there, and I think it’s sort of ongoing in that way. But I do think that the work isn’t done and so we have to continue. There needs to be a systemic shift. And so I’m committed to helping to make that happen with this program.”

Blavity: What can we see from you next? Are you working on any future projects?

AS: “More exhibitions? Definitely. Stay tuned.”

Blavity: What are you looking forward to the most when it comes to showcasing the life and work of Virgil?

AS: “To really spend time with the work. It’s really an act of generosity. It’s an act of intimacy. To sort of display objects like this and to really allow folks to get a real look and to really see the work, to see the process. I just hope that the audience can see and really react to that when they encounter the exhibition. And so my hope is that they’ll receive that gift.”

The Virgil Abloh: “Figures of Speech” exhibition opens at the Brooklyn Museum on July 1.