A warehouse across from the former Wonder Bread factory will be repurposed into a cooperative workspace for artists, continuing the Edge District's piecemeal redevelopment.
Dubbed Wonder Cowork Create, or Wonder CC, the space at 340 Monroe Avenue will offer programming and resources to Memphis' creative class.
Partners Eric Clausen, Cat Peña and Nick Peña will soon begin renovations on a 3,000-square foot warehouse space with plans for a fall launch.
“Over the past few years, it seems like there’s always something new opening up here in the Edge District,” said Clausen, who has maintained a studio at nearby Marshall Art for the past three years.
A rendering of Wonder Cowork Create's interior. (Eric Clausen)
“It’s been great to see those changes happen. The district is a little funky and a little weird, and I think it definitely a place that has its own voice in Memphis. There’s not going to be a cookie-cutter revitalization in the Edge.”
Clausen and Cat Peña had previously discussed starting some sort of artist guild or creative workers’ union in the region.
“Our thought was to make a creative co-work space so it’s not just limited to artists but to creatives broadly,” said Clausen. “It’s not just a place to work. The members also get time on the calendar to do programming.”
The artists are hoping to create a dedicated place that is shaped by the needs of the members and not by a greater arts organization.
While amenities are still being formalized, the partners will offer membership tiers that range from private offices to day passes. Members will be able to use the space as a canvas for art exhibitions, performances and programs. Lockers, electronic key access and standard office fare — coffee, WiFi, printing services — will be offered.
“The space will provide ways to work together in ways that you aren’t really encouraged to do outside of traditional educational institutions,” said Cat Peña.
Artist and partner Cat Peña in the unrenovated space. (Eric Clausen)
“Once you get out of school, you have to really push and work hard to make your community, and depending if you are an introvert or extrovert it can be harder or easier for you.”
The goal is to create more of an incubator space for people who are in between working at home and having their own studio, workspace or budding business. Wonder CC is a two-year pilot, and the partners will decide at that point if Memphis would benefit from a long-term offering.
The three partners are all artists with connections to Christian Brothers University. Cat Peña is a public artist, art consultant and the creator and founder of The Collaboratory, a creative platform for public art projects. She is also director of the Beverly & Sam Ross Gallery at CBU.
Clausen is an illustrator who works with murals, animation and much more, and he is an adjunct professor at CBU. Nick Peña paints, does mixed media installations and is a full-time professor at CBU.
As an artist and educator, Peña prepares seniors for their BFA and helps them imagine what the possibilities are with a degree in studio arts or applied arts.
“What’s really important about a sector of this for me is to help the transition for students graduating and going to look for their first jobs or starting their own business,” he said. “This space will give them a place to land for a couple of years, build their confidence and get to know people.”
“The great thing about this space is that it will be self-run by members,” said Clausen, who just completed an artist residency at Crosstown Arts. “So, that way we don’t need to have a front desk person all the time.”
The Wonder Cowork Create balcony extends over Floyd Alley. (Eric Clausen)
The building owner, Mike Todd, is hoping the artists can help to activate the building and the neighborhood. Originally the building had been used for automotive purposes and has had a number of other uses over the years, including as a set design space.
Renovations will include installing movable walls and table and desks on casters to create a flexible workspace.
Wonder CC backs up into Floyd Alley with a balcony overlooking the space.
“The Memphis Medical District Collaborative is trying to activate this alleyway that ends at Redbird Stadium and runs to Danny Thomas Boulevard into a hidden pedestrian byway,” said Cat Peña. “We’re really excited to think of creative programming outside of Wonder CC and into Floyd Alley.”
Related: "Between the Lines II: Turning Memphis' alleys into hidden destinations"
Already, the business has commitments from one organization and two small creative firms that would like to utilize some space in the building.
Thanks to a recent pre-development grant from the MMDC, Wonder CC is conducting several focus groups at the building soon to meet potential new members and find out exactly what they might be looking for before renovations start on the space. The next meetings are slated for May 31, June 4 and June 10.
“The Edge District has always had some of the most experimental art spaces in Memphis since the 1980s, and we would like to continue that lineage while also making sure that the development that comes through doesn’t lose sight or its place and its history,” Cat Peña said.
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