Intermedia Arts launches a co-working community

Creative types scamper back to the office, kind of

THE WEDGE — Coffee shop and living room workers of the world unite: Intermedia Arts’ recently launched ArtsHub aims to liberate office-less creative types from the café and the couch.

Previewed Sept. 29 and officially launched Oct. 10, ArtsHub is an effort to bring together like-minded individuals and groups in a shared workplace environment. Offering things like workstations, conference rooms, copying, printing and wireless Internet access, ArtsHub provides in one place office amenities many folks normally wouldn’t find in a coffee shop or in their home.

More than that, ArtsHub is a community-building exercise attempting to connect people in a social workplace that fosters collaboration and a shared energy of creativity.

Located in Intermedia Arts and a newly renovated space called ArtsHub West, the program is curated and hosted by Peter Haakon Thompson, a local artist long involved with Intermedia Arts.

Thompson was brought on board to manage ArtsHub in mid-August. His work mainly deals with participation, interaction and conversation. He set out to make the ArtsHub spaces into a comfortable work environment that would be conducive to collaboration.

“I’m interested in creating spaces and [in] how spaces function — how they physically feel,” Thompson said while sitting in what he calls “the heart of the ArtsHub,” the mezzanine at Intermedia Arts. “Our goal was making it feel like a place, not a space.”

ArtsHub does away with the sterile feeling of an everyday office space. The mezzanine is dim and warmly cozy, with workstations, computer stations and lockers spread throughout what feels like a very hip college library. Placards on the tables remind users: “Talking to strangers is OK. Make a friend.”

ArtsHub West, which Thompson said was “Intermedia’s secret building,” is freshly painted and bright, with many workplace options, a conference room, a brand new kitchen and a walk-in cooler. Work by October’s featured artist, Ethan Arnold, hangs on the walls.

The furniture in both spaces was acquired through the University of Minnesota’s ReUse Program, giving the workplaces an air of collegiate familiarity that would otherwise be lacking from regular office furniture.

This was no accident, said Julie Bates, the associate director of Intermedia Arts, who also worked on launching ArtsHub.

“We want to create more of a campus feel than an office feel,” Bates said.

More than 70 people attended the ArtsHub preview and many showed an interest in being involved with the program.

“The response has been overwhelmingly positive,” Bates said, noting that there was already a waiting list.

Erik Ostrom was one of the many who came out for the preview event. A web developer who usually works from home or in coffee shops, Ostrom said he thought he wasn’t a part of the target audience for ArtsHub, although the program is not aimed strictly at artists.

“I’m interested in having a workplace where people are making things,” he said as he entered ArtsHub West.

Eartha Bell, assistant director of the Givens Foundation said: “We’ve been looking for office space all over town.”

Asked about her current working environment, Bell said she “offices virtually,” and added that she was definitely interested in what ArtsHub has to offer.

“I think it’s a really good idea for like-minded people,” she said.

Freelance graphic and web designer Karen Kopacz said she was intrigued by the idea of working alongside others at ArtsHub. The potential was in “not just the space, but the people and the collaboration,” Kopacz said.

Poring over an ArtsHub flier, she thought out loud about whether she would become involved with the program.

“Do I spend $125 on coffee per month?” she said.

The ArtsHub costs anywhere from $15 for a day pass — including access to the mezzanine, copy machine and Internet during business hours — to $600–$800 for a monthly “Think Tank” membership that allows 24-hour-a-day access to ArtsHub West, storage and a mailing address. Overall, there are six levels of membership to choose from.

Theresa Sweetland, the executive director of Intermedia Arts, said the fees and the program are a way of moving the nonprofit forward. During the fall of 2008, Intermedia was forced to lay off staff because of the recession and has been looking for more revenue streams.

“ArtsHub is a way to meet our mission and sustain ourselves,” she said.

ArtsHub will offer various events with community building in mind as the program gets underway, including lunchtime skill-shares, happy hours and table tennis tournaments.

With much of the legwork out of the way, Thompson and company were focused on getting the program up and running.

“We’re going to keep talking to people and creating this community,” Thompson said. “We’ve been so focused on making the spaces, so I’m excited to see people using the places.”