Rust Belt to Artist Belt Conference-Part Two

n April 6 and 7, creative professionals from throughout the Midwest will come to Detroit for Rust Belt to Artist Belt III. This biennial conference, hosted in Detroit for the first time this year, will explore the role the creative community has in revitalizing post-industrial economies in Rust Belt cities.

B.L.A.C. is a proud Rust Belt to Artist Belt III media partner. As such, we have already introduced you to one of the conference’s many incredible panelists, Margarita Barry, founder of a soon-to-launch 71 POP, a space where local artists will showcase their work.

And now we are pleased to introduce you to another conference participant: Hajj Flemings, founder of Brand Camp University, which operates one of the largest personal branding conferences in the Midwest. His branding expertise has been sought by major corporations including Walt Disney, Ford Motor Co. and Skechers. Hajj took some time to talk with B.L.A.C. about the conference and about his work.

How did you decide that you wanted to establish a career helping people improve their brand image?

I remember reading an article by Tom Peters in Fast Company Magazine entitled “The Brand Called You.” His writing on the subject was a catalyst that shifted my paradigm on how I viewed people and their human capital. I began to realize that people were just as much brands as any product or service that existed. The greatest reward for me is that my work with personal brands impacts not only [people’s] personal finances, but also the economy of the region where they live. This has driven me to continued working in this space ever since.


What needs to be done in order to effectively brand Detroit as a place that is welcoming to the creative community?

The creative community has to be given some type of ownership or stake in helping to brand Detroit. Also, creating an environment, such as incubators, that enables [entrepreneurs] to create sustainable businesses. Attracting companies with corporate cultures that inspire creativity will be critical.

During the conference, you will be on a panel about strengthening creative small businesses. How does an African-American-owned creative business develop a brand identity that stays true to self, while still having a broad-base appeal?

Staying true to yourself starts with first knowing who you are. Your product or service should be a reflection of your core values and your vision. It doesn’t necessarily have to reflect your skin color or be marketed to African Americans. Your business model should be sustainable and align with your core competencies, talent, skill sets and passion.

Why do you think people should attend the Rust Belt to Artist Belt III conference?

The Rust Belt to Artist Belt conference is designed to attract thinkers, creators and doers who are creating stuff that matters. Being [there] could be the catalyst to help you live your dreams. Remember, business is done based upon relationships, and conferences like this create an environment where you have the opportunity to connect with the right people locally, and nationally.


If you want to hear more from Hajj, he will be a panelist for the discussion titled “Strengthening Creative Small Businesses” on April 6 at 10:45 a.m. Learn more about the event schedule and register for the Rust Belt to Artist Belt III conference by visiting

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