Denver entrepreneur Skye Barker Maa sells neighborhood music school
For designer, entrepreneur and mom Skye Barker Maa, when her kids are interested in something, she doesn’t just enroll them in a class or program. When her three-year-old son showed an aptitude for music and she couldn’t find a school that would accept such a young student, she opened Neighborhood music and theaterand in his house. When her daughter became interested in sewing and couldn’t find a program that fit her daughter’s schedule, she opened factory modea fashion design school that operates in Stanley Marketplace.
As soon as Maa has an idea, “I grotesquely rush towards her in a completely bravado way,” she says. If she can’t find a business that already meets the needs of the community, she starts one. “As a classic entrepreneur, I’m like, ‘Well, let’s solve this,'” she adds.
Maa opened Neighborhood Music in her basement in 2012. Lacking musical experience but with a knack for business, she hired teachers and expanded the school until her basement was the music house. of approximately 55 students and seven teachers.
The school expanded to 10255 East 25th Avenue in Aurora in 2015, then moved to Stanley Marketplace in 2018. However, Maa quickly realized that the school was getting too big for the space and its employees were looking for more opportunities to teach different arts. She kept Stanley School of Music and opened her own arts collective and black box theater space, factory five fiveat the 25th Avenue location.
This space offers every artistic program imaginable, and it was the original home of Factory Fashion. At Factory Five Five, you can enroll in acting and film classes, shoe painting, dog clothes design, and more.
And Maa did not stop at the music school and the artistic collective. She also opened an aviation-themed bar, sky bar, at the Stanley in 2022 and moved Factory Fashion to the top floor of the market as it grew. It’s a fashion school by day and a bar and event venue by night. Currently, Maa is designing her own fashion line and has started a local clothing production company called Small Batch.
Unlike many other companies, Neighborhood Music has actually experienced unprecedented growth during the pandemic. With children at home having few activities to do and musicians having their concerts canceled, the school has seen an increase in the number of teachers and students wishing to take virtual lessons.
Although the school is thriving, Maa recently made the decision to sell Neighborhood Music. “I think at the end of the day, I had done everything I wanted with it, and it was time for a new generation…if he was going to live on,” Maa said. “The original nugget of why I was there evolved, so it was a good time.”
Ensemble Music Schools, which owns several music schools across the country, bought the music school and Maa had just returned her keys the day before we spoke with her. Neighborhood Music School is only its second location in Colorado, its first being Dana V Music in Louisville. Jeff Homer, founder of Ensemble Music Schools, asked Maa to buy his school before he even thought about selling.
“We sent Skye a letter in the mail in 2020; we were lucky that when some of her other business interests started to take off, she remembered us,” Homer said. “She contacted us earlier in 2022.”
Homer says Ensemble has no plans to drastically change how Neighborhood Music currently operates. “It’s really at the heart of our mission, which is for the students who are out there. They can be sure that Neighborhood Music will be in Stanley Marketplace,” Homer said. “We also have a very strong commitment to continuity, so we keep all the staff, [and] all the teachers will stay.”
Together will focus on marketing the school to serve even more students. The school currently has about 400 students and Together hopes to increase that number to 1,000.
Maa is confident that Ensemble will maintain the integrity of the school. “I couldn’t have left it in better hands,” she says.
Although Maa is sad to be leaving, she can’t help but be giddy when talking about her future creative endeavors. She will present her first clothing line, SKYEAIRE, at Denver Fashion Week. It’s aquatic-themed, which means it’s “truly inspired by the ocean,” she jokes. “I can’t even contain my childish excitement that we’re in production for a line.”
The line will be couture and very avant-garde. “I’m going to wake up Monday morning and wear it, because I have no rules and I wear eccentric stuff every day,” she says. “I don’t think the average person is going to wake up and wear this to a business meeting, but I’m sure the hell will.”
In addition to designing her own line, Maa also launched Small Batch, her own clothing production company, currently operating out of Factory Five Five. Small Batch gives designers the option to have their clothes made in small batches, rather than paying large production companies to make many more products than needed.
Maa says the best part is that the company gives anyone the opportunity to get a job there, regardless of experience or background. “You can’t have sewing experience and we will train you in sewing if you stay with us. We reached out to refugee centers and reintegration communities and said, ‘Hey, we have a living wage with benefits in a training environment. Come and work for us,” says Maa. “We have translators, we have childcare services, we try to set up transportation. We try to create an opportunity for someone who has just arrived in the country to have a career. “
Many employees have worked with Neighborhood Music since the beginning, and she says it’s hard to leave those who have been with her for so long. “One person in particular had been with me since 2012 and is still here, and he called, and he and I barely made the call. There was nothing to talk about; we called together and were completely silent. “, she says of longtime employee Peder Sill. “This person has been with me through everything.”
Sill came to Denver to study piano in 2011 and discovered that one of the only ways to make a living as a musician was to teach. “It was when the business was in its basement, and it was a really cozy place; there was a lot of love pouring in,” Sill says. “It’s something that gave me the stability and the structure to be able to live in Denver.”
In her eleven years working for Maa, it’s been fun watching her grow, Sill says, and he’s thrilled to see her pursue other projects. “Skye has been extremely impressive in the way she has built this business,” he adds. “I’m really proud of her for continuing to follow in her footsteps.”
Maa and Ensemble Music will host a celebration open to the public for the new owner from 5-8 p.m. on Thursday, August 11 at Factory Fashion, 2501 Dallas Street, Suite 200, Aurora.