“Resiliency through Relationships”

Three weeks ago, I had the opportunity to speak to more than 180 Spaceworks supporters at our dinner fundraiser, CACHET. This was both an opportunity to introduce myself as the new program director and to share some of our successes. Below is a copy of my remarks:

“Good evening,

Welcome to CACHET, our first dinner gala for Spaceworks. Thank you for spending your evening with us!

A couple of months ago, I was speaking with MaryMikel Stump, of the Washington Historical Society. She said, “I love Spaceworks, but I’m not quite sure what it does.”

As Spaceworks has grown over the past nine years, it has taken on many forms and iterations. For me, that is the embodiment of one of our core values, the entrepreneurial spirit. We take risks and adapt to new opportunities. And as Kristina Walker, from Downtown on the Go, recently pointed out, by changing and being nimble, it means that we are also able to respond to community needs.

In short, Spaceworks provides training and support to artists and entrepreneurs in Tacoma. In purely economic terms, these are microenterprises, businesses with fewer than five employees. From a social perspective, we work with people who have a creative passion but may not have the resources to grow their dreams.

We do this work through four key programs, led by three amazing employees. Gwen Kohl runs our incubator program, known for its 12-week business planning cohort, but also includes alumni support to more than 150 graduates, a coaching program, and free entrepreneur workshops to the public. Gabriel Brown is our artscapes coordinator, leading six gallery exhibitions each year, plus a rotating and ever-growing roster of murals, window displays, and public art installations. And Kiara Daniels, our new community relations specialist, is a self-proclaimed pollinator, someone who connects people with each other and strengthens this city by building relationships and making access to resources more accessible and equitable. On paper, she manages our coworking program, which provides affordable studio spaces in downtown and Hilltop, but she also provides key support to volunteers, alumni, community partners, and special projects.

This last category, special projects, includes a variety of civic collaborations. This past year, we partnered with Tacoma Arts Live, the City of Tacoma, and Pierce Transit to gather public feedback on the new theater district, using the arts to stage unexpected creative interventions.

On Hilltop, we worked with Sound Transit and a team of community engagement specialists to more authentically involve the community in the design of their streetscape, the sidewalk that parallels the new light rail through Stadium and Hilltop.

Through a grant from the JPMorgan Chase Foundation, we’ve expanded our incubator services to support existing, anchor businesses in Hilltop, strengthening and preparing them to survive the light rail construction.

All of this is in service of our motto, “cultivating creative communities”. For me, it’s not just our graduates and program participants, but also the communities and business districts where they will work.

I’ve found myself drawing this graphic over and over again when talking to people about Spaceworks.

Spaceworks Nodes 1

Each node represents an artist, a business owner, a developer, a city official, a resident. The more we are connected with each other, the stronger this web becomes. The loss of any one node is felt by all, but the system remains intact. As I think about the challenges facing Tacoma, current and future, I want to make sure that our resiliency is based on relationships.

This is a map of the businesses who have participated in our programs.

Spaceworks NodesAs you hear the other speakers tonight and learn more about Spaceworks, I invite you to place yourself as a node within Tacoma’s creative community. Think about what dreams you have for Tacoma and how artists and entrepreneurs might share in those dreams. That’s the magic of the Spaceworks community, we work with courageous people who imagine futures that are not yet realized and then are brave enough to bring them into reality.

Thank you.”

-Michael Liang, Program Director