All photos by Jeff Martin
Washington D.C. (which we, it goes without saying, LOVE) is many things but “a safe haven for creative careers” is probably not at the top of the list. The army of makers and artists that live in it often hold down 9-to-5 jobs in order to be able to afford it, and the struggle for finding a space to work in (that is not your tiny dining nook in your tiny apartment) is a constant one. And, as much as more traditional small businesses turn to co-working spaces, so do the artists and artisans. Which is why we’ve launched Rooms Of Their Own, a column where we visit and explore collaborative work environments inhabited by women (and sometimes men).
We’ve been to Brewmaster Studios, The Lemon Bowl, and Wild Hand Workspace, but we’re finally making our way to Locale Workspace, a creative’s haven at 52 O Street founded by Alison Beshai. The bright intimate space has a membership model that allows people to work out of it for a few days, or months at a time depending on their needs. There’s also donuts. We spoke with Alison about her inspiration for opening up Locale, and then chatted with some members about how it feels to work out of a space this beautiful.
Tell us a little about yourself and what you do, aside from Locale?
Alison Beshai: My background is in fashion, I’ve had a personal styling company for about 4.5 years now, currently Beshai Styling Group (www.beshaistylinggroup.com). I still manage that in addition to both Locale and Dinner Curated (www.dinnercurated.com), a dinner party series I started about a year ago. I also do some consulting for other businesses, ranging from other fashion companies to real estate developers.
How did the idea of Locale happen? How did you stumble upon the space/settle into it?
The idea for Locale came about somewhat selfishly. I was dreaming of having a loft space where I could do work in a cool environment and be surrounded by other creative people, probably from meeting so many amazing people through Dinner Curated. I knew I wanted it to be at 52 O Street Studios because of the loft-like spaces and the somewhat raw and industrial feel of the building. I had inquired for a few months about space but nothing quite worked out then one day I hit up a friend who worked for Mutiny (who occupied our current space before us) asking him to connect me to the owners because I wanted to have a dinner in their space. He responded and said they were leaving in about a month or so and I immediately jumped on the opportunity to snag their space. If it wasn’t for that one conversation we may not be here because by the time we signed the lease less than a week later there were 8 other people interested in the space.
What is the model, how can someone join?
We do membership two different ways: monthly memberships and day passes. Someone can apply to join for a monthly membership for a year, 6 months or on a month-to-month basis. We try to curate our monthly members somewhat so that they can all work well together because we want the value to not only be space but the people who are in it as well. We also offer a day pass, which was originally geared towards people traveling into DC, and a 10 day pass punch card, which allows people to get a discount on the daily rate and use 10 days at their convenience without a commitment like the monthly memberships. The way the pricing is set up makes it so that if you come once a week or less, the 10 day pass makes more sense and if you come more than once a week, a monthly membership makes more sense.
Before Locale, where did you work / what can you tell us about the experience?
Before Locale I worked either from home or from coffee shops. Part of what was created at Locale was meant to be an answer to coffee shop hoping woes. Many coffee shops don’t offer wifi anymore, it can be hard to find a seat or outlet, you have to buy coffee everyday… So at Locale we have super strong wifi, don’t over book so there’s always room for anyone who has access and we offer free coffee and snacks. As for working at home, I am extremely extroverted + ADD so working alone with all the distractions of my apartment was a disaster.
Did you know any members etc other before you moved in and how?
Just my business partner and I, who I had only known less than a year before we decided to do this together. We met through mutual friends on Instagram and now we are business partners and the best of friends. Everyone asks what kind of research we did when we opened the space up. The truth is, we didn’t do any, we just did this for ourselves and hoped other people would see and want to be apart of the vision. That was either really smart or really stupid but it worked out! What we did we did know was that other co-working spaces in the city weren’t conducive to creatives and that we could had the lowest rates.
What does a typical day at Locale look like?
It’s so different everyday. We have two community managers who help us hold down the space since we are open 6 days a week so some days my business partner, one of the community managers, myself and a few members are all in the space at once and other days it’s super quiet. We don’t require people to book their time or anything so it’s really a crap shoot when people will show up and how long they will stay.
You host other artists and creatives in the space too – for gallery openings and more- any highlights, any amazing discoveries?
We had been wanting to do collaborations with artists to fill our walls with art and also feature local artists in the space and for awhile we just couldn’t get it going due to schedule conflicts and such. Then we had a local photographer, Kevin J, who rented out our space in the evening for an event to showcase his work and by the end of the event I was like “hey, do you want to just keep your photos up? They work really well in the space” and that became our first exhibition. He ended up keeping his work here for a month and so many people fell in love with his photos/photography style. We are now installing our second exhibition with Charles Jean-Pierre, who did custom work for our space and we have another photographer collaboration in summer who is also shooting custom work for our space. So nice not to have empty walls anymore!
Creative space is at a premium in DC and we see sharing of the same more and more – what do you think are some of the benefits and disadvantages of working together?
The benefits of shared space in my opinion, outside of the obvious cost-sharing, are being able to vibe off of other creative people and making new connections. Having been self-employed most of my adult life, I realized that not having co-workers or classmates anymore left me feeling like something was missing. I appreciate being able to bounce ideas off of other people and vice-versa. I’m also super inspired by other peoples’ creative processes and ideas. And as for the connections, it’s amazing what can happen when you put creative people in a room together. During our “soft launch” when we were just getting up and running, my business partner and I each invited our different friends to come by and see the space and in that time alone I witnessed at least 5 people realize they could work together/collaborate/connect somehow and then exchanged info. We knew then we were on the right track.
As for disadvantages, I would say the limit to what the space can be. I like to say that we are geared towards laptop-style creatives. While we do have members who sketch. illustrate, and write out of the space, a co-working space like ours isn’t conducive to painters, performance artists, etc.: artists who require more movement, more mess.
Are there any shared co-creative lessons you learned, anything you’d like to celebrate?
Right now I’m celebrating that I haven’t killed my fiddle leaf fig tree. Her name is Abbi–actual Broad City reference–and she is growing beautifully despite by anxiety that she’s dying everyday. Just kidding (but not really). I’m learning everyday how other people work and what that means for our space. I am an “idea person” so for me to work requires very little, most of the times just a notebook and laptop, but other people have more needs and we are trying to adjust to them. For example, we have lockers where we people can store their items because we learned that people who have tools, etc. may not want to lug them around and it’s more convenient for them to leave them here.
What’s next for you / for Locale?
I think I have enough on my plate personally but as for Locale, we are currently establishing ourselves as a place for locals but we eventually also want to be a destination for people who are traveling into DC. Many people do some type of work or laptop session while they travel and we would like people to find value in our space instead of a place like Starbucks or their hotel lobby where they can get work done in a cooler environment while also meeting local creatives and maybe leaving with some connections and a different perception of the “scene” in DC.
Next we spoke with members Sarah Alix Mann and Diamond Williams.
Tell us a little about yourself and what you make?
Sarah Alix Mann: I’m an artist and designer who works in jewelry, interactive installations, illustration, mapping, storytelling, and graphic design. Most of my work tries to walk that fine line between playful, educational, and introspective. I also do a lot of media consulting; for instance right now I’m working with an artist residency in Guatemala and a local music photographer, Sketched Light.
Diamond Williams: I am a budding fashion correspondent currently in the process of developing a my own fashion and culture online-publication, branding myself as a correspondent, critic, high-fashion model, and soon-to-be author. I am currently attending Trinity Washington University in D.C.’s northeastern quadrant, pursing a undergraduate degree in Communication with a concentration in Journalism.
Have there been any collaborations?
Sarah Alix Mann: With other Locale Workspace members? I actually just started working at the space but already I’ve been blown away by how this intimate, friendly slice of the city reflects such a powerful creative force within DC. I can’t wait to collaborate with the community and watch it grow!
Diamond Williams: I have solicited Stephen Miller’s assistance with graphic design essentials and website development regarding my online publication.
Could you describe what your typical work day looks like?
Sarah Alix Mann: Locale Workspace is one of those places where quiet, intense work can be accomplished but with refreshing breaks of conversation that both inspire and challenge. I couldn’t believe my luck when I discovered Locale Workspace. Every time I’ve visited, I meet new artists, entrepreneurs and designers who utterly impress and obviously love being part of this supportive community.
Diamond Williams: I’m a community manager for Locale so in addition to working on my own projects I’m also responsible for briefing potential members on Locale’s services and membership plans, member enrollment, and management of Locale in the absence of it’s founders.
What’s next for you?
Sarah Alix Mann: My next step is to explore the intersection between artistry and the entrepreneurial spirit – I think there is a lot to be learned from the people here. But I’ve also provided consulting in the past around community outreach and knowledge-sharing, so I look forward to maybe helping Locale Workspace expand those areas as they grow.
From Diamond Williams: I will be returning to undergraduate school for the Fall ’16 semester. I am planning to also run my fashion and culture online publication full-time, which is slated to launch mid-summer 2016.