What do a comic book shop, an art supply store and a champagne bar have in common? If they’re located in Tacoma, the answer is Spaceworks.

Heritage Bank LogoResidents of Tacoma have probably heard the word used here and there, but since it’s associated with so many projects and businesses it can be hard to nail down exactly what Spaceworks is and what they do. However, small business owners know Spaceworks for the opportunity it affords startups and the big impact it has had on the creative scene. Although the organization has only served the Tacoma-area since 2010, it has already helped more than 100 businesses find a foothold in their community.

Spaceworks is a joint initiative of the City of Tacoma and the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber of Commerce. The project was founded by Tacoma’s Arts Administrator, Amy McBride, and created with the aim of providing program participants the guidance and space needed to realize their goals.

Before and After
From vacancy to vitality, Spaceworks has helped to incubate more than 100 South Sound businesses by providing small business training and entrepreneurial resources to owners. Photo courtesy: Spaceworks

“Spaceworks is a resource and support network to artists, creative and innovative small businesses for Tacoma,” says Program Administrator Heather Joy. “We are growing the capacity of our artists and small business owners, while at the same time building a more vibrant and resilient Tacoma.”

The program has grown in recent years, but at its core is a Creative Enterprise initiative. In a nutshell and at its simplest, the process looks something like this: program participants apply, demonstrating their grit and ambition in the form of an application and portfolio of sorts. A business degree isn’t required, but programs that are selected will be ones that fulfill a need in the community they hope to serve and are able to develop a sustainable business model. In exchange for a low fee (that is administered on a sliding scale of $50 to $200), participants will benefit from a small business owner’s curriculum of classes, access to tools for startups, and education about strategies to help innovative and creative businesses thrive.

Students work with Spaceworks
Students of Seabury Middle School help Spaceworks and local artist Diana Leigh Surma create a mural on Market Street. Through their Artscapes program, Spaceworks beautifies Tacoma with art installations and pop-up events. Photo courtesy: Spaceworks

“We have provided training, technical assistance, exposure and/or space to just over 100 creative, innovative businesses,” says Joy.

One of the things that makes Spaceworks so special is their partnership with property owners who are willing to donate their vacant spaces. Creative Enterprise matches small business owners with Tacoma area landlords who have either donated their space for a limited time or who are willing to negotiate a low- or no-rent agreement in partnership with Spaceworks. For small business owners, this ultimately offsets operating expenses and frees up time and money to focus on growing their business. Program participants give back to the community when they accept a lease from Spaceworks, too, transforming storefronts that may have been vacant for too long into dynamic points of interest with creative businesses, site-specific art installations, special short-term projects and entertaining pop-up events.

Small business owners and artists find common ground in the support network that Spaceworks provides. Photo credit: Fabitat

Spaceworks has had a hand in the start of such well-loved Tacoma institutions as Tinkertopia, the Nearsighted Narwhal, Write@253 and Fabitat, but expansion and successful partnerships have made this organization more than a resource for small businesses. Through a program called Artscapes, the Spaceworks has also identified locations to showcase upwards of 135 streetside art installations and murals. Artscapes finds a place inside vacant storefronts and businesses (and sometimes even outside on streets and sidewalks) to display 2D, 3D, mural, and multimedia art installations around Tacoma. Work by local artists has enlivened shop windows and outdoor spaces with help from this creative venture, and even star as the subject of an outdoor video gallery in the City of Tacoma. Artscapes offers artists a stipend to support the creation of new work, the installation of existing work and the commission of site-specific projects.

Special Projects are another branch of the Spaceworks umbrella. This program provides short-term space (as little as one day and as long as six months) to groups of individual artists interested in presenting or creating artwork, a creative special project or a pop-up store/event. These projects are funded based on resource availability, and applicants are accepted on a rolling basis. In addition to these roving exhibits, Spaceworks also operates a contemporary gallery in the heart of downtown Tacoma to provide a more stable home for artists to showcase their work.

1120 Artwalk
Music lovers young and old appreciate culture at 1120 Creative House during the Tacoma Art Walk. 1120 Creative House, an event space and studio that serves up to a dozen local artists at any given time, provides a dedicated space to create and appreciate art in Tacoma today. Photo credit: Kris Crews

Another Spaceworks program—its largest to date—is the 1120 Creative House. The organization took over two-thirds of an entire building at 1120 Pacific Avenue in 2015, bringing the coworking trend of Seattle studios to the South Sound. At 1120 Creative House, up to twelve artists can rent a studio space on the second floor of this two-story building. Here, for an affordable rate, creatives can take advantage of a beautiful modernist work space, access to shared kitchen services and an 800-square foot gallery space and activity center.

While it seems as if Spaceworks has already accomplished so much, Heather Joy says there are many more exciting projects on the horizon. To learn more about local artists, small businesses and how to support a community that cares about both, visit the Spaceworks website. The best way to keep up with new happenings at Spaceworks is to connect on social media. Here art lovers, budding entrepreneurs and curious community members can learn about upcoming events and shops slated to open soon.

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