A new coworking environment at 245 McDermot is offering work space for independent creative entrepreneurs. The centre is spearheaded by Arts and Cultural Industries of Manitoba (ACI Manitoba).

It’s geared to the creative sector -- individuals and businesses who need space to work, have flexible schedules but also want to be part of a community. Artists, designers, writers and agents share the space, and also have the chance to share ideas, make connections, encourage each other and get inspired.

Thom Sparling

Thom Sparling at work at 245 McDermot. (Leif Norman)

Executive director Thom Sparling is surprised that this is a new idea in Winnipeg because it's burgeoning all over North America and Europe. He says he's already received a lot of interest.

"We're really excited about it and the people that we've got here - the synergies and the energy that we've already got, even though we're not really full yet, is really cool." 

The centre offers a professional setting with high-speed internet, printers, postal meters, a receptionist and meeting spaces, even free coffee. There are 14 cowork spaces on one floor in an open area, mixed in with the ACI offices, as well as some private offices. Another floor features a beautiful Aboriginal Sacred Circle and a large classroom.

It's flexible, too, because you can rent a desk for 40 hours a month, you can rent it by the day or you can be full-time.

"The community aspect of it becomes super-important and almost trumps the fact that you're in a professional setting, because you're in a shared space, the cost is shared across and so it becomes a reasonable price point for you to come in," said Sparling.

"One of the things that's really been noted over the last couple of decades is that creative people work better in proximity to other creative people,” he continued. “The biggest piece of it is you become a part of the community. It’s not just simply about renting a desk. One of the benefits is you can instantly give yourself professional credibility.”

Tracy Tjaden

Writer and editor Tracy Tjaden enjoys the networking aspect of 245 McDermot. (Ruth Bonneville)

Tracy Tjaden is a writer, editor and web developer who found that working from home as a freelancer was not all it’s cracked up to be. She missed contact with others and even simple things like choosing a work wardrobe. After moving in to 245 McDermot in the spring she immediately decided it was exactly what she needed.

"This was perfect!" she said. "The people who came up with this had a real vision -- this idea of collaborating and making referrals and getting people who are of a similar bent in the same space is really working," she said. 

"If I want someone to take a quick look at something or run a headline by them, it opens up that opportunity."

She also finds the physical environment very pleasing. "It's amazing. The whole Exchange district has a certain feel to it, a certain eclectic character, and architecturally this is a stunning building.

"I'm used to really stifling office workspaces with florescent lighting. This space has exposed brick, nice lighting, beautiful hardwood floors and big windows. I love it for that. It's just got a feeling that encourages creativity, but it also really makes people remember where they are, that historically it’s really important."

The Writers’ Collective of Manitoba has also moved in to 245 McDermot. Sparling said, "Right away this organization gets a leg up because all of a sudden they're in a professional space and have access to professional equipment and have a proper mailing address and a receptionist." 

The hope is the organization will grow here.

"We're also recognizing an interesting trend that's going around the world is when you bring arts, culture, the creative sector into proximity with the tech sector, you see exponential growth," said Sparling. They are currently developing projects with tech companies in the neighbourhood like Assent Works, Ramp Up Manitoba and New Media Manitoba.

"We see the coworking space at 245 McDermot as being a microcosm of a greater program that engages creative people within the Exchange District," he said.