Collaborative Spaces: Co-working for makers in Edmonton

co-working for makers
MINBID’s gallery in Vacancy Hall. Photo courtesy of Marcus Coldeway.

This is a city where creativity and community go hand in hand. In this series, I’m exploring the local businesses and spaces whose collaborative natures make them more than the sum of their parts.

After exploring the world of co-work office spaces in my last post, I decided to turn my attention to co-working spaces aimed specifically at makers. Creative people have long been sharing space to help cover costs and build community and the idea is expanding. Here in Edmonton, Harcout House has been a longtime resource for artists and the much newer Vacancy Hall provides similar support to makers of all kinds.

I spoke with several tenants in shared spaces about the community and connection that they find in these spaces. These include Edmund Haakonson, artist and tenant at Harcourt House since 1996, Justin Falconer of Sink or Swim and Edmonton in a Box, Vacancy Hall tenant since November 2015, Marcus Coldeway of MINBID, Vacancy Hall tenant since February 2016, and Erinn Trebaczkiewicz of Shop the Skinny, Vacancy Hall tenant since August 2016.

What made you decide to become a studio tenant?

Edmund: In the spring of 1996 I was sharing a studio space downtown with another artist. A fight erupted over the studio and how I was “allowed” to use it, I lost that fight and was forced to move out. I was without a studio for 3 months when a space at Harcourt House became available. Moving my studio to Harcourt House turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me.

Justin: I just really love the space, building, and atmosphere. So many great tenants and a great location in the exciting development of downtown. Such a good place to be headquartered.

Marcus: MINBID Art Auctions had been doing pop up art auctions in Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver since Aug 2013. We had reached the point where we required a full time space to deal with the capacity and logistics of selling art year round. Marcus Coldeway (me), team leader and visionary of MINBID saw the pop up rental studios in Vacancy Hall as the future for MINBID. Vacancy Hall is a “super space” for us in the sense that it allows us to own and pay for a small footprint but get access to all that the Mercer Warehouse has to offer, including Vacancy Hall. This means being able to host our events and art auctions but also being directly connected to one of the, if not “the hottest” building for startups and entrepreneurs in YEGDT and possibly in all of Alberta. 

Erinn: With The Skinny starting out originally as just an online shop, I was finding many local Edmontonians reaching out and asking to pop by my house for local pickup to save on shipping costs (which I could totally understand), however with that increasing to pop-by’s every day I noticed a need for a local spot and Vacancy Hall was the perfect fit for that! It also allows me to showcase new items before putting them online (a bonus for my locals!) and for the tradition shopper to pop in and see the items in person. It has increased my local sales immensely, both online and in shop.

How does sharing space impact your work?

co-working for makers
Edmund Haarkonson’s studio in Harcourt House. Photo courtesy of Edmund Haarkonson.

Edmund: Sharing space has improved my work enormously I think. My studio space is a separate private space but I spend my working days surrounded by others artists in the next room or down the hall. When I get stuck on something I can walk a few steps to ask another artist to come a take a look and give me their opinion and feedback. There is also a sense of competition I think, in the healthy sense of that, where I can’t be lazy and think I am doing a good job. With other people around I have more of an awareness that I need to keep improving skills and maintaining a level of production that may not happen if I was on my own somewhere. Having other people around keeps me honest and on my toes about being productive.

Justin: It is great because you can bounce ideas, refer business, and collaborate with all the other great tenants. Probably one of the coolest buildings in the city as well!

Marcus: The different groups in Vacancy Hall collaborate in differing ways.
1: When one of the shops hosts an event, all other shops are allowed to be open. Resulting in some really natural cross promotion.
2: Each shop owner(s) are entrepreneurs and most are A type personalities. We all hustle everyday. So working side by side with each other we share tricks of the trade. Ways to boost sales and get deals with suppliers. Tips to rework your website, how to blow up on instagram or that tricky photoshop question are constant banter in Vacancy.
3: Meeting and teamwork: The shops meet all the time to plan larger events, upgrade the hall, and talk about ways to work together better.
4: Some shops have gone as far as selling each others’ work and sharing commissions.
5: Ping Pong matches daily

Erinn: It’s been great. We showcase our items to customers that we might not have otherwise had access to as a shared space and it’s a super fun space to throw ideas off each other. We’re like our own creative community down there and I love it!

What role does community play in your work?

Edmund: Community is huge for me. There is the exchange of ideas and opportunities that is so important to me, to all artists I think. Being able to talk with other artists about what is happening in the art world, the world in general is really important for my ability to absorb and understand events. Connecting with other artists is also extremely important, even if those connections are just casual conversations, having a sense of being connected is vital to my well being as an artist. That, for me, is the most important aspect of the community at Harcourt House, The knowledge that there are other people going through the same struggles and victories that I am. It is so important to know that one is not alone and having my studio at Harcourt House removes the sense of isolation that I felt as an artist for years before becoming part of the community at Harcourt House.

Justin: With our company Edmonton in a Box, it is all about community. We are trying to promote and support local business. Whether we are trying to help businesses or customers find something local. It is also important to build relationship’s within Edmonton’s community.

Marcus: MINBID has always been an inclusive model. We used to have 100% open submissions for our auctions but now with the gallery we have restricted the submission system a bit. We now review and take on artists monthly. Artists are encouraged to apply on our website. 

Erinn: The biggest role I’d say would just be the continued support we give each other. Everyone has an off day with starting a new business, but I find that we can ask for help or ask for ideas and someone is always willing to throw out something new that can motivate you to keep going. That’s a pretty powerful tool.

What advice would you give to people looking for space to rent?

Edmund: There are very few spaces left in Edmonton (or anywhere I suspect) that resemble Harcourt House in the community/collective nature of artists working in close proximity. If one cannot find space in an existing place, try to create it for yourself. If a space can be found that is too much for just one or two artists but would work if there were four or five, try to make that happen. It comes with challenges to be sure, but I think if a workable arrangement can be arrived at, the benefits are worth it.

Justin: Come to Vacancy Hall! It is truly one of the best spots in Edmonton’s thriving downtown. Stop by ask for a tour and go from there.

Marcus: Finding your “super space” isn’t always easy. Take your time and make a check list of what you “need” and what you “want”. Make sure you can afford the overhead for one year if not longer. Sometimes people think they need a shop or a storefront but maybe a Shopify account would work better. Don’t rush into it but if you are going to rush or are already looking to Pop-Up an idea or business, Vacancy Hall is the spot to do so.

Erinn: I’d say just go for it! You’ll always wonder otherwise. And I know it might not work for all, as is life, but I took the leap and it’s been really great for my business both financially and for growth. I also think it’s a great way to get your feet wet and see if it will work for you and your business. And If anything else, it’s a great place to not feel so lonely because you’re all in a collective community working together to make things work.