» Subscribe Today!
The Power of Information
The Ledger - EST. 1978 - Nashville Edition
Skip Navigation LinksHome > Article
VOL. 37 | NO. 34 | Friday, August 23, 2013

WELD offers ‘arts collective’

By Joe Morris | Correspondent

Print | Front Page | Email this story

Dallas-based WELD is bringing office space for creative types to Nashville.

-- Austin Mann Photography

The idea of business-startup space is not new.

In fact, incubators abound all over the country, and Nashville is no stranger to the phenomenon. And with the decision of Dallas, Texas-based WELD to create its second artist-oriented space in Music City, the city itself appears to have become an incubator in its own right for various types of the model.

The idea of an incubator is fairly simple. A large space is parceled out to individuals who are looking for a space to launch a company. While each runs differently, most demand that occupants provide a business plan, secure financing and take other steps to ensure the viability of their offering. Then, when the company and/or product is launched, the new firm spins out into its own space, and a new start-up takes over its old digs.

Many such enterprises have found success in the Nashville area, including the Nashville Entrepreneur Center, which currently houses many fledgling companies, and E|SPACES, which doesn’t house any companies, but rather makes meeting space and other amenities available on an a la carte basis for renters.

The open-box concept has indeed worked out well for E|SPACES, which opened in Belle Meade in 2010, expanded there in early 2013, and in between, set up a second outpost in Cool Springs. It focuses on creating a space that bridges the gap between home office and large, corporate digs, allowing people to purchase memberships based on how much, or how little, they need, says Phil Gibbs, chief executive officer.

“We observed people transacting business in coffee shops, which is a nice environment but a terrible place to do business, and people working in a traditional space that had all the amenities they needed, but an environment they did not enjoy,” Gibb says. “We wanted a casual, open environment but the state-of-the-art amenities they would need. We provide what people want — office space and amenities as a service.”

WELD Nashville hopes to replicate the success it has had in Texas, but unlike the more business-to-business operations already in Nashville, it will build on the success of its maiden venture in Austin to create a space where the actual artistic endeavors are the focus. Think arts collective, but with a built-in business side to run operations, explains Austin Mann, founder.

“I have spent the last four years pretty much homeless and traveling all over the world,” says Mann, a travel photographer. “I was gone most days of the year, and even though I had a home base in Dallas, I was there very little.

WELD fosters a relaxed atmosphere for its customers. It's opening an office space facility for Nashville artists.

-- Austin Mann Photography

“In 2011, I had taken a few weeks to run a workshop, and took eight photographers to Ethiopia, and trained them on how to tell stories that make a difference and dignify people along the way. It was about how to be an artist, and use that gift. I then reflected that I had been going 1,000 miles an hour, and not really investing much in others. So I began to dream of a place where there were lots of conversations between different creative individuals — as well as a place to work.”

He was well aware of the home studio, as well as the coffee-house-as-office model, neither of which he saw as particularly effective. Nor, he thought, were the incubator spaces he looked into.

“There was nothing out there really for the artist, or the creative mind,” he says. “On the one side, you have tech-oriented spaces for start-ups; on the other, there are artists’ collectives that are uncurated environments. I began to think about a space that wasn’t too arty, or too techy, and where people could meet clients and manage their business, edit their photos, write a script … and do it all together with other creative types.”

From that idea came WELD, which is a curated space where tenants are members. That gives it a community feel that is important to Mann, but also provides a space where people are leaders in their creative field and have the tools they need to succeed.

“We began with a small group of significant creative leaders who were looked up to in their industry, and that really established us,” he says. “They, in turn, attracted the people that we have there today. And as we grow, we’ll keep looking for strong, creative people who influence and resonate, who are the pulse of whatever community we’re going to enter.”

When WELD announced that it would be opening a second space, Nashville was one of many cities, including Austin, Houston and Colorado Springs, on the list. Mann and his fellow operators pretty much left it to the communities in the mix to promote themselves, and to make their case. Nashville won out not just with sheer numbers of people asking for a WELD facility, but with the creativity and bona fides that are already here, Mann says.

“We’re not looking to take the model we’ve created and just jam it in somewhere,” he explains. “We have created a really neat platform, an open canvas, and now we get to bring in talented leaders and build out a community slowly, through them. That way WELD will represent what Nashville is all about, rather than just what’s going on in Dallas.”

Mann and his team have visited Nashville to scout locations, and will continue to do so. At the moment they are looking at space throughout the Metro area, keeping in mind that so far about 250 people have expressed interest in being housed in the site. The Dallas WELD is about 10,000 square feet of finished studio and other space, but it was unique in that it already had been a full-blown studio before.

Mann knows that replicating that may not be feasible in Nashville, but he still has ideas about what WELD here will look like.

“We would like something around 8,000 square feet, and not too far from downtown,” he says.

“In Dallas, WELD is a destination, not a foot-traffic location. That has worked well, so we’re looking for the same thing in Nashville. Some historic warehouse space, something with tall ceilings and some other amenities, would be ideal. But we’re really flexible, so while we’re looking at space, we want to have conversations with people in Nashville, asking them what their ultimate creative platform would look like.

“We want to see what the friction points in their creative processes are now, and how WELD can help them get past those to make great things.”

Current plans call for a site to be closed on within the next few weeks, and then to be up and running by year’s end, Mann says.

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter & RSS:
Sign-Up For Our FREE email edition
Get the news first with our free weekly email
TNLedger.com Knoxville Editon