You might not have heard of Arvada, a small city in Colorado just northwest of Denver. That's probably a good thing.
"All throughout Arvada, you can see the Rocky Mountains. That's the image that sits with me all the time — just how beautiful those mountains are and how they follow you no matter where you go."
That's the city seen through the lens of Ryan Antar, who was born there. The sophomore biology major left when he was only in the third grade, but the place left enough of an impression that he bestowed its name upon his budding company: ARVADA Creatives.
It's 8:37 p.m. on a Wednesday night at MilkBoy ArtHouse. The doors opened at 8. People have started trickling toward the stage to get a better look at the performers. Antar is in the back of the venue, equipped with a fresh restock of free stickers, and merchandise ready to be sold.
He manned the table for much of the event, joking and talking with friends and other familiar faces who came by. One guy picked up a stack of sweatshirts and pretended he was running away with them. They both laugh. It wasn't until YTK, an 18-year-old rapper from Baltimore, took the stage that Antar abandoned his station. He is one of four rappers of the music branch of ARVADA.
ARVADA was also one of three co-hosts of the event, "The Breaking Grounds Show." Antar humbly gave much of the credit to the other sponsors, although the chunky, bold-white letters of the logo took up just as much head space on the flyer. The showcase was a big stepping stone for him.
"Branching out to UMD was on my mind for months and weeks," he said. "I was obsessed with it."
When Antar and his family left Colorado, they headed to Baltimore, and he's been there ever since.
The creative bug has always been in him. He spent his adolescent years making beats, eventually forming a music group with some folks he met online. He delved into photography and graphic design, turning four of his creations into apparel. They didn't sell, so at age 15, he took a hiatus.
"I don't think it was a quitting moment but more of an opportunity for me to perfect my craft, sit back, experience life a bit," he said.
Then came the ARVADA blog, which at the time was mostly a hub for the pictures Antar would take. It wasn't until his senior year of high school that he discovered the creative scene in Baltimore, and he was already plotting to take it and elevate it. What became of it was a "creative company."
"I don't like to call it a brand," he said. "I think that dilutes the purpose of what ARVADA is."
That's what it's not. It's an incorporation of art and philanthropy that is wholly invested in the city of Baltimore itself. Antar's current merch campaign is "The City is Ours," with "Baltimore" embellishing many of the garments.
"I feel as though ARVADA has significantly cultivated a very powerful movement in Baltimore that has touched many people," he said. "Baltimore is a place where people are connected, and when there's a purpose, the unity is unbelievable. … I want to make that a very central venture to our company. It's in our hands to bring people together, uplift the community, and embrace art while doing so."
Antar's humble mindset can be credited to his parents. His mom would emphasize to "give credit [and] give back what you can."
His first investment into his company was spending $519 of the $523 he had in his account on putting his new and improved designs on shirts. He was too embarrassed to carry the box through the house. When his dad asked what it was, Antar said it was for a project, trying his best to avoid a lecture or any further questions. But he would grow into himself and his abilities, and formed an understanding that it's up to parents to worry, especially when it comes to the possibility of their children failing.
"My mother never let me believe I couldn't do a single thing," he said. "Thanks for making me hard-headed, Mom."
Antar is of Lebanese descent, which has largely influenced his outlook and beliefs. Traveling to Lebanon opened his eyes to human conditions outside the comfortable ones many Americans enjoy.
The ARVADA Foundation hosted its first event in January. Antar said they collected over 500 canned goods and 2,000 articles of clothing.
Now that the show is over, ARVADA has formally been introduced to the University of Maryland community. But the rest has yet to come.
"I want to change the culture here," he says.
Antar has made it a point to widen his local footprint before setting his sights elsewhere. He has continuously heard artists complain about the city they live in or a lack of appreciation from the people that live there.
"That conversation is always hilarious, isn't it? That may be true in many cases, but I think some of that mentality stems from a inner insecurity," he said. "People that live in L.A. and NYC want to move out of there just as much as we want to move out of here."
His face lights up when discussing one of his long term goals: working with Under Armour.
"I really would be honored to work on creating a youthful accent to what Under Armor does," he said. "I want the university to not think of Under Armor just for athletics, but for capturing the current state of our age."
It might seem peculiar that Antar majors in general biology, as opposed to, say, art or design. But that's not a concern for him, because there is a common denominator — the people.
He works at two hospitals. At the first, he's a medical scribe, in which he writes patients' charts (why they're there, diagnosis, treatment, etc.), among other things. At the other, he's an OB/GYN research assistant, which entails collecting tissue samples and their lab data. He also watches surgeries. Plus, there's a hefty and rigorous course load for his major, which can lead to stress.
"It's a good stress, though," he said. "I cannot complain ever because I am doing exactly what I intended and said I would. "
ARVADA is his work and his free time. He doesn't watch movies or go to parties. That's time he's spending curating ideas for the company. He does, however, like to go outside, listen to music and just observe nature, bringing him full circle to his Coloradan roots.
Antar is not a one-man show. ARVADA is a sum of its parts, which includes some of his closest friends. Even when they're hanging out, they're working constantly on ways to evolve the company.
"[We] like to sit and brainstorm things we personally want to see happen and, simply put, we just make it happen," he said.
YTK and Antar met at one of the former's shows in Baltimore. He rememberes YTK tweeting later that night asking for the "cool white guy" taking all the pictures. ("I'm not white," Antar responded, "but that was me.") That was two summers ago.
Antar's role, at its core, is to lead. He books shows and events and manages the artists, in short, "making sure we are all moving cohesively."
In 2016, Antar tweeted that he had yet to walk down the street and see a random person wearing ARVADA apparel. It finally happened March 12, about a year and a half from when he first started. And as resources grow, he says the impact will only get stronger.
"There is so much work left," he said. "You will see."