Suits at a Big Bank Hook Up With Creative Types To Make Something Interesting Happen

When it comes to "creative placemaking," the real fun always seems to come after the ink is dry on the lease.

After all, supply and demand isn't a major problem in many cities. Most urban areas have an abundance of abandoned or underutilized buildings. And these cities also have dozens of nonprofit arts organizations eager to stay within their city limits (if finances allow). Rather, it's after an arts organization moves into their new home that more formidable challenges emerge. How do they grow? How do they pay rent? What's the next step?

For an incisive look into how players operate in this gray area we turn our attention to the great Pacific Northwest. That's where Tacoma’s Spaceworks program received a $100,000 grant from the JPMorgan Chase Foundation for use toward its Creative Business Strategic Growth Plan.

Spaceworks, a joint initiative kicked off in 2010 by the City of Tacoma and the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber of Commerce, connects vacant spaces in Tacoma with business owners focused on art and creative enterprise. But rather than toss new businesses their new set of keys and say, "Have a nice life!" Spaceworks sticks around for the long haul.

Many of Spacework's first crop of placed businesses are alive and kicking, and so the grant will help them take that next step. Specifically, Spaceworks intends to launch a pilot "Tier II" program in April to supplement the current training program for new or recently formed businesses. The Tier II new program will help these alumni businesses expand, develop new products, figure out new marketing angles and clear other growth hurdles.

In a sense, Spacework's mission blends the components of two recently-profiled organizations here on IP. The real estate broker aspect reminds us of the Kenneth Rainin Foundation-funded Community Arts Stabilization Trust, which buys and leases properties to stabilize arts organizations in rapidly gentrifying San Francisco neighborhoods. And their more consulting-focused work echoes that of the the Phoenix-based Flinn Foundation, whose Initiative for Financial and Creative Health identifes priority capitalization needs and designing strategies to impact those needs. 

Spaceworks noted that the grant was the result of a long courtship with the JP Morgan Chase Foundation, who, as we noted here, is well aware of the challenges facing urban America. The foundation's five main philanthropic initiatives include workforce readiness, financial capability, small business development, community development/affordable housing, and employee engagement and volunteerism.

"We’ve been cultivating that relationship with [JPMorgan Chase Foundation] for several years," Spaceworks manager Heather Joy said. "And finally, we were at the right place to get that type of grant from them. They’re interested in supporting entrepreneurship and small business, so it was a really good fit for what we’re doing."