A proud alumna of Howard University and the Savannah College of Art and Design, Elbi Elm discovered her passion for managing creative spaces, using self-expression as a change agent, and community-building. Elbi founded The Culturist Union to equip creators with the necessary support, awareness, and confidence to improve their craft and their community.
She brings over 15 years of leadership to the table, including nine years in the U.S. Air Force. She’s served as the diversity marketing advisor and board member for several nonprofits, and publicly speaks on diversity, equity, and inclusion. Completing the Georgia Women’s Policy Institute fellowship positioned her as a strong advocate for creating positive policy change for Georgia’s women and girls. Elbi won best pitch of Savannah SCORE’s 2019 BizPitch competition, was selected for the American Express “100 for 100” program, and has been featured in several local and national publications including Savannah Morning News, Essence, and Black Enterprise.
What do you create?
I founded The Culturist Union, a multifunctional and first-of-its-kind, and only Black-owned coffeehouse, cultural hub, and artisan marketplace in Savannah, Georgia.
Why do you create?
Because Black artisans needed a place to connect, collaborate, and create on any given day, during the day, in the Coastal region.
Who is your audience?
Black artisan entrepreneurs, other creatives, and their allies.
What about your relationship with Savannah has inspired you to build such a supportive community base there?
After separating from the United States Air Force, I moved to Savannah to be near family. Savannah has a gravitational pull that calls in you. I love everything about Savannah: the trees, the people, the food, the water, the opportunities that I saw to create the life I wanted for myself and to solve problems for the community I love. I wanted to prove to myself and others that greatness can be built in a secondary city.
Who or what inspires you?
Madam CJ Walker is my muse. She built a multi-million dollar empire as a Black single mother, in the middle of a nationwide pandemic and economic downturn. I am also inspired by my family of entrepreneurial go-getters, those who get hard things done and make a real impact on their communities.
How do you balance creating with the rest of your life?
To be honest, I haven’t found that “balance,” but I do think that everything is cyclical. There are times that I am revved, energized, and ready to tackle it all, and there are times when rest and living are required. I’m learning to lean into what I need for myself at that moment and reject the notion that being busy = productive. I also have an accountability person (my son) who will call me out when he needs time with his mom. That’s usually my north node to rest and recover.
What is your favorite piece of work you’ve created?
The Black Millenial Roundtable discussion: a monthly hybrid IRL/Digital monthly free-discussion-styled segment presenting some of the best and brightest black young game changers, artists, cultural innovators, and business professionals to discuss and dissect various topics important to the black community. Check out our latest here.
What is your favorite creation by a Black person, and why?
I love the act of gathering, the act of spending time connecting and networking with those who share your ethos. For so long, the act of gathering was taboo, downright illegal and could cost us our lives so for creatives to create spaces for in-person gathering pays homage to generations past and allows us to cultivate a new future. I cannot name just one space but for me, these spaces are ones I follow and hold deep inspiration for me: The Village Market, The Gathering Spot, Maketto, Ethel’s Club, Blackbird, The Silver Room, Bus Boys and Poets, The Mehari Sequar Gallery, Distinctively Creative and The Quincey House are but to name a few.
Any advice for new creators?
Don’t think; just do. Oftentimes, we allow fear or the projection of fear to stop us from doing what we believe is our true purpose. I believe that if you train yourself, much like the training I received in the USAF, to act and respond, you can avoid the problem so many of us face in the beginning—which is quitting too soon.
What are your current or future projects you’d like to plug?
The brick and mortar for The Culturist Union will be opening very soon! Stay tuned for details on our grand opening by following us on Instagram @TheCulturistUnion.