Space Us Finds New Ways To Empower Creative Communities

By Liz Smith for Brain Arts Org

May 23, 2020


Earlier this week I connected with Stephanie Lee and Ellen Shakespear, co-founders of Space Us. Space Us invites the Boston community to "imagine your idea here". Where exactly? Anywhere!

Anyone with an idea- such as an art project, event, or digital collaboration- is welcome to connect with Space Us. They aim to find the perfect location for any idea, utilizing vacant and underutilized spaces in the process. Keep reading to hear about how Stephanie and Ellen are advancing Space Us's mission and adapting to present challenges.

Hello! Thanks for taking the time to answer some of my questions, how are you doing?

Hi! We’re glad to be here—thanks for having us! These days, we are doing alright. Mostly we’re feeling grateful for our health, for the health of our families, and for the capacity to continue to work on projects. We are continuously inspired by the ways that communities are continuing to show up and support one another during this challenging time.

Can you tell me a little more about Space Us and your job as co-founders?

Absolutely. We started Space Us with a dream of bringing people together in the city. That’s taken many different forms over the years... We've reimagined vacant storefronts and vacant lots as platforms for local artists and makers, and as sites for workshops, exhibitions, and more.

"But at its core, regardless of where we are in the city, we’re trying to find opportunities and build connections and community for local artists, creatives, as well as residents."

We started Space Us together, and our roles are incredibly very wide-reaching. On a typical day, pre-pandemic, we were variously scouting opportunities for activations, building furniture, chatting with artists and makers, editing videos, painting walls, posting online—a little bit of everything.

enter image description here As part of Hub Week 2019, Space Us collaborated with over ten artists to showcase their ideas; the project resulted in nine murals, a reflective light installation, and a participatory exhibit- all in/on shipping containers.

The pandemic has turned life on its head for many of us, how has it impacted Space Us? How does daily life and work look for you right now?

Daily life is now, of course, much more online, and much more focused on how to adapt our work—which was so frequently in the physical realm—into a world of six-foot distancing.

"Many of the day-to-day actions have shifted. But, at the end of the day, we’re still motivated by the ways in which art and new ideas connect us and make our cities more exciting and vibrant places to live."

On a personal level, we’re also learning how to work far apart from one another—like so many are these days. We’ve spent the majority of the last 4+ years together, and we’re just now learning what it means to collaborate using FaceTime as the primary medium. The things that we miss are the random conversations and thoughts—the things that might not warrant a calendar invite or a phone call but are nonetheless important for brainstorming and developing projects—or even just feeling close to someone! That said, we have a pretty robust text thread that captures everything from random things we encounter in our days to scheduling concerns, and more.

What projects are you currently working on? Are you involved in any relief efforts for artists or the general community?

We’ve launched a series of projects during the pandemic, all of which—in their own ways—are focused on connecting and supporting one another during this time.

The first is what we call the “Procrastination Kit.” In short, we commissioned a series of artists to collaborate on work centered around the theme of growth. We assembled their work, along with some other printed matter, into a kit that we’re mailing to folks at home as a way to invite some fresh ideas and thoughtful reflections into your home.

It was so fascinating to see how the contributing artists navigated the collaborative process in a time of social isolation. We hope that the kit is able to bring some joy during this time.

We’re also donating 10% of sales to organizations of the artists’ choosing, including Seeding Sovereignty, the Northern Arizona Volunteer Medical Corps, Project Bread, and Rethink Food.

enter image description here Artwork included in one of the Procrastination Kits, done by Rose Wong and Thomas Colligan

Second, we’re working on a video series that gives a glimpse into the lives of creatives. The episodes, which are released weekly, are incredibly wide-ranging—everything from how to tidy up a desk to how to introduce movement and ritual into your daily routine. We find that watching others share a technique or simply create work in their studio over the course of hours can be incredibly soothing and offer some sense of connection during a time when we’re apart.

Finally, as we are unable to use our full-scale furniture or paint real walls these days, we created miniature versions of them, and have been inviting artists and shops to take over the “Microcosm” and turn it into their own tiny world. It’s a fun way to see the people, work, and places we love at 1:12 scale, until we can gather IRL.

And as always, we use our weekly newsletter as a place to shine the spotlight on an artist/maker/community organizer and chat with them about their creative process and the ups and downs of their journey.

We’re also launching some new projects in the coming weeks—stay tuned! We’re always thinking about new projects and are always open to hearing new ideas. We always have a little note in our newsletter encouraging folks to write to us with ideas—in fact our newest initiative, which we’re currently working on the logistics for, was the result of an email we received!

What are your hopes for the future of Space Us?

We know that our streets, our public spaces, retail, places for art—really the whole world—will look very different after COVID-19. Our hope for the future is that we can continue to focus on building resilient ecosystems of support amongst neighbors, creatives, and small businesses in our cities. We feel that this will be more urgent than ever as we all navigate the weeks and months ahead.

If artists or others with ideas/projects want to find a space, how can they reach out? Are there ways for you to collaborate with them right now amidst all the uncertainty & inability to physically gather?

Yes!! We are truly always looking for collaborators. We’re always happy to chat about physical spaces, videos, small miniature things, pop ups, newsletters, resources, projects, collaborations, events—you name it. Please don’t hesitate to reach out! DM us, or reach us at hello@spaceus.co.

enter image description here Space Us's pop-up in Downtown Crossing last November where they featured the works of over forty local artists & makers for the holiday season.

I was so glad to connect with Stephanie and Ellen. Learning more about the innovative ways they connect people with the space they need has been incredibly inspiring. Stories of resiliency within Boston's creative sphere keep me looking toward the future and life after COVID-19 with optimism - hopefully this brought some intrigue and joy to your Saturday!

The cover image from Space Us' Facebook page.

Be sure to follow Space Us on Instagram and Twitter to keep up with their ever-changing projects.