In Portland, empowering artists to be entrepreneurs

Artists in Residence program gives four creatives the space, classes, and community they need to grow

The We Company this week announced the first artists who will be part of a program called Artists in Residence, which will help artists pursue their life’s work.

The program, based in Portland, Oregon’s WeWork Custom House, will give four people a chance to grow as artists and entrepreneurs by providing them with the workspace, educational opportunities, and community they need to thrive as both.

“In any city WeWork enters, a first order of business is to work with diverse stakeholders, from mayors to creatives, to better understand the vision for the region,” says Gina Phillips, general manager for the Northwest. “In Portland, we listened and continually heard a need for more creative space.”

Artists in Residence is a partnership with Cake Machine, a Portland-based platform for artists who want to hone their business skills.

“Portland has long been a place where creatives could make a life without sacrificing their craft,” says Lucas Senger, co-founder of Cake Machine.

But a spate of unfortunate events has tested the reputation of Oregon’s largest city, long known as the Pacific Northwest’s “capital of weird” because of its creative spirit.

Illustrator and designer Helday de la Cruz is one of the first people to participate in WeWork’s Artists in Residence program.

In early 2018, the rising cost of living, the bankruptcy and closure of the Art Institute of Portland, and the multimillion-dollar sale of the city’s affordable studio space in the Towne Storage Building contributed to the erosion of the foundational elements required for artists to survive.

“Growth is bringing the same challenges that New York City, San Francisco, Seattle, and other cities are facing—gentrification and increasing pressure on the creative economy,” says Senger.

In response to the Portland City Council’s plan to preserve affordable arts spaces, WeWork partnered with Cake Machine to launch Artists in Residence. The six-month program offers four individuals space to practice their craft at WeWork Custom House.

“In Portland, a huge priority for the city is the protection and growth of its creative economy,” says Michael Harold, WeWork’s public-affairs manager in the West. “We really wanted to not only provide space—that was the minimum threshold—but to offer some things so unique that people across Portland would stop and think.”

That’s where Cake Machine comes in. Artists in Residence will have access to a tuition-free curriculum that includes business skills “in addition to, not instead of, the creative act,” Senger says, such as branding, web development, budgeting, and much more.

After considering more than 60 applicants, WeWork and Cake Machine whittled the list to four in mid-January, selecting artists based on their likelihood to scale and their ability to capitalize on audience and market opportunities: photographer Carly Diaz, illustrator and designer Helday de la Cruz, fiber-installation artist Jessica Pezalla, and site-specific installation artist Marcelo Fontana. The group moves in to WeWork Custom House on Feb. 4.

“I am passionate about my work and what I create, but I try not to be too precious about it,” says Diaz, who hopes to learn ways to improve her lifestyle-photography business. “I open myself up to criticism, change, and the refinement that collaboration brings.”

Senger says WeWork is the perfect partner for Cake Machine because it can help artists uncover their entrepreneurial side.

“WeWork is simply the best evolution of the collaborative-business community today,” says Senger. “WeWork has the resources, creative courage, and dedication to make a program like Artists in Residence work for all involved.”

The Artist in Residence program is also partnering with Sennheiser, which will provide the artists with wireless, noise-canceling headphones and other technology to use while they are working in the space.

Harold says he hopes in the long term to expand the Artists in Residence program to other cities.

“Our ambition is to scale,” Harold says. “We’re using this as a learning moment, seeing what works and what doesn’t. The ambition is to refine and grow.”

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