Br(OK)en Genius: A story of struggle healed through art and community

image3Chris McIntyre is a self-taught artist. From a young age, he was certain about having his own voice and how his intrinsic gravitation towards art as something inexplicable. As a professional artist for five years, Chris has been through grueling instances such as homelessness, artistic crisis, dealing with family issues, but has also has had artistic success and exposure.

In 2013, McIntyre was the youngest artist participating in the 30 Americans exhibition at the Milwaukee Art Museum, where he showed his piece, Higher Thought. “This piece is a snap shot of my life,” McIntyre expressed. Despite the darkness in his life and lack of opportunities due to background and age, he created his own way through the narrow, higher path of art. He shared, “This opportunity literally opened the door to a 700 plus seated performing arts center,” where he imagined and then realized Br(OK)en Genius.

“Br(OK)en Genius is an opportunity to break stereotypes and create dialogue in Milwaukee, which is irrefutably known as one of the most segregated cities in the United States. We live in a world where for some, struggle is considered a daily norm and for others, struggle is something exciting and amusing due to its uncertain nature,” McIntyre explained. These different natures of struggle inspired him to use Br(OK)en Genius to show truth in its ruggedness as well as how despite one’s brokenness, healing is always possible.

To make this art experience a reality, McIntyre wanted collaboration. He made a photography exhibit comprised of 18 photographs focusing on the impoverished, urban areas comprised of African Americans within the inner city of Milwaukee. He collaborated with six spoken word performance artists,who went on stage and used their lyrical storytelling abilities to bring photographs to life. One of the performing artists is Marquette University engineering student alum: Emily Mennenga. She described her experience with Br(OK)en Genius stating, “Our practice leading up to the performance was spiritual, like church. It was emotional and intense for each individual sharing their stories and as a community as well.” Beyond the presentation, the art of Br(OK)en Genius is intended to engage the community and the response is overwhelmingly positive.

Alongside creating discussion, the intention of this project is to give hope to Milwaukee. Despite each person’s struggle and despite where they come from and what they have been through, everyone is broken and equally has genius potential. Br(OK)en Genius recently reached out to the youth of St. Marcus Middle School. “For nine weeks, we worked with six students with a unique story of joy and struggle. The goal was to inspire these students using the Br(OK)en Genius model so they could learn to use their creative gifts and outlets to express themselves,” said McIntyre. He hopes that the organization will continue to instill this hope in the youth of Milwaukee. “By sharing my scars and my struggles, I hope others will feel empowered to share their scars and struggles as well.”

Currently, the Br(OK)en Genius community is working to perfect and polish itself. McIntyre shared about the process of event. “It was not easy. Tears were shed. Stress and pain were felt. But this community is present, broken and okay.” The organization hopes to have another year of curriculum and artwork that resonates with relevance in 2016. It wants to continue engaging with youth and to discussing difficult and uncomfortable topics.

If you are interested in this organization and collaboration between Br(OK)en Genius and the Marquette community, check out the artists who made the event possible at