Circa 2012
In 2012 the founder of Creatives Garage sat in their house in Ngumo trying to edit (some decrepit project) with a laptop that could barely scrape past its login screen and a dark cloud of sadness draped over them. This is before they were known as the ‘Chief Mechanic’ in creative circles or “Gru’’ in the office. Have you ever tried editing while depressed? It’s not easy, especially when part of your depression stems from your work and the reason you have to do it. Mind, this wasn’t just any melancholic early morning edit session. It was your run of the mill “everything is going to sh*t and I can’t just sit here and wait for it to get better I need to do something about it” moments.
That edit session brought to reality (we’re still not saying what Liz was editing) the glaring reality of their creative career. Liz had scraped the bottom of their financial barrel to put together pilots for TV shows. The hopes and pilots for these shows ended up being discarded by guards or disregarded by TV execs . 8k phone cameras weren’t a thing back then.
Filming a pilot needed a sound guy, a camera guy, an editor and cast members who couldn’t always be “Maina Who Works For Miraa” every time.
Unless something changed, Liz realised that taking and editing sh**y filming opportunities (stop asking what the gig was) would remain their reality. With that realisation came questions
“Why am I doing this alone? Where do other creatives go to share knowledge, frustrations and meet people who can help/work with them? For example, if they needed help on a TV pilot.”
An idea pierced through the cloud of despondency (is the overly dramatic imagery selling this? We hope it is). Portfolio reviews are chances for artists to have their work evaluated by their peers and other experts in their fields. Behance had just put out a call
for creatives to self organise portfolio reviews in their country and this gave Liz the idea to host their own. Sure, we admit this was not original but it was ‘DOING SOMETHING’.
However, coming up with the idea for an event isn’t the same thing as hosting one. Gigs like this need money, space, seating and a host of other things that Liz didn’t have sitting about. Add to that zero event experience, no staff, no budget and an office that could fit possibly 2 other creatives squeezed in so tightly you would need a crowbar to pry them out.

Like another ray of sunshine in Liz’s dreary world, the British Council came to the rescue like a knight in shining armour (too much? Yeah we thought so too). The British Council had already been supporting various arts programmes such as WAPI. After hearing Liz’s pitch they offered space for the portfolio review. 40 creatives attended this first event and 6 portfolios were reviewed.

The artists networked, contacts were exchanged, people learnt stuff etc etc etc. The gig was over and it didn’t seem like much had changed or been done. Time to head back to an unfulfilling life in the arts.
Liz did not factor in Euticus. Euticus was a promising spoken word performer who was in much the same situation as Liz when he attended the portfolio review. He emailed Liz looking for a job or attachment or “an anything”. The first gig had made an impact in his life and this spurred Liz on to turn one event into a series of them. The next few events were held at Pawa 254, a hub for journos, artists and activists to meet and work towards social change.
Art was (who are we kidding it still is) considered more of a hobby than a career path. Our second intern didn’t think that, she even dropped out of law school to work at CG. Her parents did agree with this sentiment and two weeks into her tenure with us they came for her. It’s hard to describe the fight that followed but she (the intern) won. She eventually did quit her unpaid internship at Creatives Garage to go back to university but not to study law, she went on to study media.
That little bit of drama aside, Liz’s friends started to buy into their idea and helped align the goals of Creatives Garage. The events had changed from portfolio reviews into temporary spaces where creatives from all walks of life would come together, (cut through the bureaucracy and bullsh** that populates our various creative industries) to collaborate and push the boundaries of the creative scene.
Early 2013
Liz’s friends helped them register Creatives Garage at the Ministry of Lands as a trust. Why are trusts registered at the Ministry of Lands? We don’t know, but Creatives Garage was finally legit. Still broke, but legit.
The newly registered trust survived on hope, prayers to several gods and the goodwill of the creatives and interns who joined. Our first official office was the size of a public toilet, little more than a glorified corridor. Getting to your desk if you were late was like playing human Tetris in a BM (Before Michuki, the
government minister who told Kenyans that 14 seater vans should only have (drumroll) 14 people in them (mind blown). We were all shocked to learn this) packed matatu. Some people would have to get out if you needed to get to the back.

Mid 2013
Liz met Mwalimu Gregg Tendwa a multimedia artist and afro-futurist who would later go on to found Ubunifu Hub in Machakos. Gregg bought into the idea of Creatives garage and through Hivos Creatives Garage got its first round of funding.
With the funds from HIVOS, CG moved out of the glorified toilet to a new suite of offices in the Greenhouse building on Ngong Road. The funding also went to hosting the first-ever Sondeka Festival, a 50-hour festival celebrating the 50 years Kenya had been independent. Mercy Myra performed and so did (the then upcoming, now A-listers) H_art The Band.
We had a music stage and the entire Green House building was turned into a giant art space with live art creation by legends like Feysal Anthony Nair, Brian Omolo and Joey Ng’ethe.
(We’re still in year one by the way. It’s all moving very fast, isn’t it? That’s what happens with good ideas)
The GreenHouse building is close to Kibera, Kenya’s largest informal settlement. Young women and girls living in Kibera often drop out of school for a variety of reasons and these women would eventually still need to earn a living. One of Creatives Garage’s first programmes was Sanaa Initiative. The project nurtured the creative talent in these women from Kibera to provide them with access to income-generating activities that don’t put their lives in danger.

This same year we started Expressions, a weekly open mic open to anyone and everyone could come showcase their skills. This event was epic and even drew talent from Mogadishu (we kid you not Fam).
Unfortunately, this is the same year there was an incident at one of our events(we’ll dish the tea of this for a crate of tonic water and three bottles of gin, the good stuff). Greenhouse’s security team beat up one of our staff members and dragged him to the building’s basement. We later had to bail him out from a police station.
Following this, the management at Greenhouse gave Creatives Garage a 2-week eviction notice. Their reason? Some of our members had dreadlocks and wore ‘dirty jeans’ and thus we posed a ‘security risk’.
Frustrated and angry Liz walked out the building and down Kirichwa Road where they spotted a ‘Too-Let’ sign. We quickly paid for our new office and set up shop. The first thing we did, held an event called ‘Good Riddance Chris’ in honour of the Greenhouse Manager.  (plus the new space had a garden, Greenhouse had no green spaces, this could our bitterness showing, just green paint smh)
Sondeka was in its 2nd year.

Our new space quickly became a thriving hub of activity. Music became a big part of Creatives  Garage and we opened an in-office recording studio. Having a recording studio in the office did have its drawbacks, no amount of soundproofing could make any place quiet enough for quarterly finance reports. However, those were far outweighed by the benefits of having producers just down the hall.
A collective of DJ/Producers called EA Wave (Ukweli, Sichangi, Hiribae, Nu Fvnk and Jinku) worked with artists like Jojo Abot, Pilani Bubu, Labdi Ommes and Janice Iche in our studio. The studio became a sort of communal space in the building for the artists working in tandem with workshops we held downstairs for musicians, DJs and producers.
We didn’t just record music in the studio, we played it as well. The Friday Chillout was a post-work get together that quickly became our most popular regular event. It was a chance to laugh, have fun, drink and dance the evening away. Graphic designers working in agencies got a chance to rant about their stifled creativity and freelance writers could complain about delayed payments and artists could celebrate new commissions. It wasn’t just fun and games, it also provided an informal platform for knowledge transfer on topics such as intellectual property rights or designing for African audiences without the stuffy feel of a classroom or seminar.
The event’s popularity continued to grow until our neighbour K**I K****a began making constant noise complaints. It got to a point where the police sat outside our offices every Friday praying that we went past the 11 pm ‘curfew’.
One day we almost did, so they arrested one of our crew and confiscated our equipment. He was released hours later and the equipment returned to us. The police presence every Friday became a running joke in the office, ‘ free government
This is the same year we also created Lebo; one of our largest multimedia projects. It was conceptualised to draw out the prejudices held by different societies and cultures in Kenya,
Uganda (by working with Ugandan refugees domiciled in Kenya) and Luxembourg. The key focus was how these stereotypes affected the lives of the LGBTQ+ community members. The project’s multimedia installations included digital art, photography, short films & poetry fused with music. The work created for this was displayed at exhibitions and showcases in the three countries and through social media dialogues and advocacy campaigns.

Many amazing things happened in 2016 but they were all overshadowed by our greatest achievement of the year. We published our first book! Femmolution Volume One is a collection of stories, poetry, non fiction, music photography and visual art by revolutionary women living in and from Kenya.
Riding on the high of adding “Publishing House” to our business cards, we created a line of shoes. The idea was simple in its  description, hell in its implementation. We planned to take a product from the design stage to market. In the early 2000s, the Kenyan government tried to create a national dress via a public competition. This was the latest of many such competitions whose results faded into obscurity. Rather than lump Kenya’s diverse cultural background into one single outfit, Creatives Garage went the other way. We started work on a line of boots that we called. Shoejaa, inspired by pre-colonial heroes from Kenya’s 42 tribes.
Our naivety turned this into a failed movie that included; fundi’s delaying the prototypes, receiving an order of leather that was far below the quality expected, one fundi completely blocking our calls and messages, and a poorly planned sojourn into China that ended with us lost in Guangzhou.
The year’s projects did not all end in disaster. There were some amazing projects such as I speak, a project about the women of Tana River County. The residents of Tana River have lived with famine, flooding and intertribal conflicts that have left many dead for decades. The project gave a voice to all the women working hard to make ends meet for their families. Women whose sacrifices have been ignored yet have made a lasting impact on their communities. While the principal geographical location for the project was Tana River County, CG pushed the project’s outputs, short documentaries and narrative pieces, via digital media to a Kenyan and global audience. Travelling to Tana River was exciting;
we needed police escorts for some parts of the journey and it felt like we would never arrive, especially after another 50 Kms of nothing but scrubland and savannah But it was worth it, not just for the project outputs but in the forever family creatives garage found with Jawariya, Maria and Aisha

we needed police escorts for some parts of the journey and it felt like we would never arrive, especially after another 50 Kms of nothing but scrubland and savannah But it was worth it, not just for the project outputs but in the forever family creatives garage found with Jawariya, Maria and Aisha
We started our first masterclasses, support queer refugees from the region this is a success…
2018 started rough. Our landlord at Kirichwa road decided to knock down the buildings on the property and build a block of apartments. We were once again without an office. We moved to a new space on Galana Road and started settling in but once the creatives started coming to the office we were asked to move again. The neighbours made complaints and the large number of people with dreadlocks and ‘dirty jeans’ who came to our office (Deja Vu much?) posed a “SECURITY RISK”. We weren’t even there long enough for the ink to dry on our new business cards. Thankfully we found a new office just nearby on Wood Avenue.
Office hopping aside, 2018 was a year of more wins as well. We won the Google Impact Challenge and started building Kalabars, a digital Content On Demand platform (that we have shamelessly plugged all over this website).
We also partnered with The Junction Mall to start Art at The Junction. Kenyan artists who felt locked out of more conventional galleries in Nairobi who only had Instagram and Facebook as the only way to display their art were given a chance to participate in a weekly open-air gallery. This opportunity meant a lot for the artists most of whom made their first sales at Art at The Junction.
We also self-published our first photobook Prosexsive. The Prosexive project seeks to encourage open  dialogue regarding sex and sexuality. It’s a daring project and one that we approached carefully. Any time an arts organisation decides to tackle topics such as sex and sexuality they run the risk of government censorship with associated fines and even jail time. Despite the risk, we hosted 3 talks and 4 exhibitions. The latest output under Prosexsive is a photobook that visually explored depictions of sex in African society.
Sondeka Festival had had rousing success over the past years but we decided to go the extra mile. Instead of just showcasing artists on stage, we started our own awards ceremony. Creatives Garage believes that appreciation is a fundamental human need (it sits up there next to WIFI). The Sondeka Awards aim is to bridge the gap between mainstream award ceremonies and innovative talent in Kenya. This after the fact display of proper acknowledgement for their extraordinary efforts in the arts earnestly builds their confidence and encourages them to continue passionately in their work.

2020 was honestly a sh** year for the arts all over the world. Venues were closed, live shows cancelled and going outside became detrimental to your health. To cushion the blow to the arts industry, Creatives Garage shifted the bulk of its output online. The first quarter of the year was dedicated to two online events. The first was Lock in Festival, aimed at having creatives, especially those considered underground, earn some money during the lockdown through incorporating tip jars and donation options during performances and on the Festival website.

We also moved the Sondeka Awards online (reminding people that they’re the sh** couldn’t be stopped by a pandemic!).
Creatives Garage isn’t just a queer-friendly space a lot of the staff are queer as well. Pride Month means a lot to CG and in 2020 we recognised that not everyone can openly celebrate their queerness. Stories Of Pride was an  opportunity for CG to give those people a voice. The project was not popular in some corners. Some people thought queer people would be forced further in the closet whereas we should be pushing them out (some people don’t realise that being out and not facing any risk is not a privilege everyone has FFS). However, it was largely accepted and appreciated by the community. 10 stories were read out and recorded by voice actors and we published a book on the same.
We closed off 2020 with an intense collaboration with Facebook Africa. Real People Real Stories is a series of mini docus featuring Kenyans who have used their creativity and innovation to inspire their communities.
The Future
Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do”
- Rob Stilton

We’re now working towards a future with more content. So far we’ve helped artists get their work out there at events or online. Now we want to help artists create more content and get the content out there. We’re creating tools, working to build alternative markets and distribution channels for content, mobile and web apps, Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality experiences and learning platforms. We’re also going to do a lot more storytelling that’s focused on the African Narrative through film, tv and web series, graphic novels, music and poetry.
It’s been a tough, long journey with credit due to the artists and creative industry stakeholders we’ve worked with over the years. Organizations such as Africalia, Google, Facebook, HIVOS, British Council, The Swedish Embassy, German Embassy, The Goethe Institut, The Netherlands Embassy, Africa Culture Fund, Africa No Filter, Airtel, Bozza, IPS, Funktion Master, KECOBO, The Awesome Foundation, Adobe, Pernod Ricard, Safaricom, The Junction Mall, Village Market

 (honestly this list is endless, this website comes with a pencil so we can fill in anyone we missed in the margins) and  everyone else who has made this journey possible.Our community of creatives has grown from a single intern (shout out to Euticus once again) to a small society of 14 000 artists from different mediums, walks of life, social classes, races you name it. They believe in us, embrace us, constantly correct us, and encourage our madness.
It has taken the dedication of everyone who has ever worked at CG starting again with Euticus (first member and first employee, we should throw him a party. )
It has taken the vision of The chief mechanic who even though they pick-up surfed (inside joke that has something to do with that terrible editing job that we mentioned at the beginning) still dared to dream.
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