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EP8 – The [Literal] Art of Community

6 minute read
by Alex Hillman

Who’s on your walls?

No, not what. Who?

One of my favorite sessions during the Coworking Unconference in Lisboa was “The Original Coworkers: On Artists and Coworking”…but the discussion also reaffirmed a HUGE blind spot that a lot of people still have about coworking in general.

In one of the hallway conversations earlier that same day in November, I’d been speaking with a couple of guys from Montreal and when they found out that the next session I was going to was the one about artists and coworking they asked me if Indy Hall rents studio space to artists.

I laughed, and shook my head no. “We don’t rent studio space.”

Their puzzled look was familiar to me. People assume that coworking = renting desks.

It’s not.

I explained to the guys from Montreal:

“Let’s be honest…I love my artist friends but they’re not exactly famous for having a steady income or cash on hand for renting workspace.

“But that’s not actually why we don’t rent studio space to artists. It’s because the word ‘rent’ doesn’t exist in our vocabulary. We don’t rent desks, we don’t rent conference rooms, we don’t rent event space. Renting is a transaction.

“Does renting a house make a neighborhood feel like home? Or does a neighborhood start to feel like yours when you get to know your neighbors, when you get familiar with the local hangouts, and when you get involved in local community activities?

“We’re more like an awesome neighborhood for people who can work from anywhere, but would rather not be alone. 

“Meanwhile artists are some of the most community-minded people you might meet…so we’ve put our focus on helping them see each other , and discover new ways to be a part of the community even when they don’t want or need studio space.

“That includes artists creating and displaying their work, but also the business of being an artist and countless other ways that artists can shape how people connect.”

At this point, I can’t imagine Indy Hall WITHOUT the artists in our community. There’s too much value that to artists can get from coworking that framing it as “renting studio space” seems to cheapen their existence.

I’m not sure if the guys from Montreal got it, but it stood out in my mind as a moment when I realized just how much I’d learned about how artists can influence a coworking community.

For one, and this might be the least obvious to even the artists themselves, is that many of them do more than create art. And once you look at things through that lens, things start to look a bit more familiar:

  • There’s the business of being an artist – and artists can stand to learn a thing or two from their business-owner peers in a coworking space.
  • There’s marketing and promotion – no matter how big or small your following, artists struggle with a lot of the same challenges that businesses do when it comes to getting new customers and clients.
  • There’s a need for inspiration and socialization – most of the artists I’ve met crave collaboration and inspiration from peers, but in reality, find it very difficult to be surrounded by other artists who are supportive of their work because resources are scarce and competition runs rampant.
  • Not to mention there’s the need for other unrelated professional support like legal council and getting insured.

…and that’s just barely scratching the surface. See what I mean by familiar?

Artists do so many of the same things, and have so many of the same needs, as the majority of the mainstream coworking population…but many of them see coworking as something “for the tech and business people”.

Which is a damn shame. And not just for them…but for everybody. 

Because – equally as important to how coworking can help artists succeed – having artists in a coworking community can have a profound impact on the way the members of that community connect to the place they share, and each other.

Artists create experiences, no matter what their medium or craft. Inviting the artists in your community add to the walls isn’t simply inviting them to adding colors and shapes and interests, it’s inviting them to share a little bit of themselves: their stories, their moods, their creativity and inspiration. These are the things that leave a lasting and positive impact on the community that experiences the art.

A lasting and positive impact which – to continue the comparison of a coworking space to a neighborhood that I mentioned before – reminds me a lot of the impact that artists have on neighborhoods and shared public spaces.

Why all of the preamble about artists and coworking?  

Because this week’s episode of The Coworking Weekly Show is all about the impact of art and artists on our coworking community and space.

On this episode, you’ll get to hear how one artist in particular has built an amazing subcommunity of artists who are thriving within Indy Hall, and some of the ways it’s shaped our community for the better, and how being intentional in designing an event can turn something as simple as looking at an image hung on a wall into a transformative experience.

Listen to my guest Sean Martorana and I explain how artists and their work have become such a huge part of the Indy Hall community…and what’s next!

Next week’s episode might be my favorite one that I’ve produced yet. It’s a totally new format, mixing a few different styles and techniques that I’ve learned over the last 8 episodes. It goes live next Monday 🙂

Enjoy, and have a great week!


p.s. if you haven’t had a chance to do it yet, I’d be so so so thankful it if you left a review for The Coworking Weekly Show on iTunes. I know it can be a pain to launch iTunes, but fresh reviews help a lot and really make my day 🙂 <3 <3

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Alex Hillman I am always thinking about the intersection of people, relationships, trust and business. I founded Indy Hall in 2006, making us one of oldest fully independent coworking communities in the world. This site is packed with the lessons and examples I’ve learned along the way. You can find me on Twitter, too! 🐦 Say hi.