My name is Tiffany Jones. I’m from California and moved out here almost four years ago with my husband, Spencer, who is in the air force. Since being out here, I’ve been lucky enough to start a nonprofit called Reel Water Film Festival which uses film to start the conversation about local and global water issues, then donates half of the proceeds to water projects in developing countries and to local education about water sustainability. That’s been a really fun and a crazy ride. Now I am helping to manage Creative Colony as well as do project management for SW Creatives, so I’m a very busy person, but I love it!
Tell me about Creative Colony.
Creative Colony is a coworking space specifically design for creative professionals. Filmmakers, photographers, programmers, designers, writers, SEO strategists, and the like are invited to join.
Creative Colony is very community driven and community oriented. The vision for Creative Colony is to be here to serve creative professionals in our community. Every decision we’ve made, every decision we will make is with one main question in mind: How is this best going to serve our members? It’s the reason why we are in the space we’re at. It’s the reason why we’re in this location. It’s the reason why this wall is blue. We want to be serving our members as best as possible.
Shala Graham, the founding operator, started SW Creatives about nine years ago. SW Creatives is a graphic and web design firm that work specifically with nonprofits and NGOs. She started it from her couch, working from a laptop, working home for about four years before moving into the Wheaton Incubator system up at the Wheaton Mall. She was there for about five years and realized it was time to graduate. Her business was successful. She had four full time employees and she knew that she needed to be moving on. It was time to graduate.
She started looking at different spaces and realized how incredibly expensive it was in the real world outside of incubators. She started thinking how cool it would be to sublease some space to people that she most works with. She was thinking about SEO strategists that she works with a lot on collaborating on websites that they’re doing, even her own website, different programmers that she may bring on a project, different communication firms that we may use. Thinking through that possibility she discovered coworking. She realized, “Oh, this is something that is already out there and people are already doing this in this whole other world of coworking.” That’s where I came in.
She and I started talking about how she was thinking about doing this. I immediately knew that this was something really cool. So I started reading about coworking because I had never heard of it either. I was like, “This is so cool. I want to be involved. What can I do?” We started talking and working together. I had a full time job already, so we were just talking whenever we could, emailing trying to figure out how we could possibly do this. We also wanted to hone in on what our vision was, why we were doing this. We didn’t want to open a coworking space to simply become part of this larger, big coworking world out there and have this huge franchise like WeWork. That was never really what we envisioned. We went into thinking, “How cool would it be to have a resource for the community right in downtown Silver Spring where people can come and affordably have desk space and resources at their disposal and grow their businesses independently, but not alone.”
We started working from that general vision. We quickly realized that we needed to find a space that was not 5,000 square feet, which is what we started looking at. If we really had our hearts set on that, it would have been really stressful because we would have been really concerned with filling seats and getting members in order to pay rent and pay our bills. That was a position that we never wanted to be in. We scaled way back, way down and started looking at much smaller spaces.
We started trying to figure out how can we have a space that is sustainable for SW Creatives as the parent company, but is also big enough to include members and build up this Creative Colony community. We started talking to a lot of community members, trying to get insight into what is available, wondering: is there someone in the community that has space that could get behind this and is passionate about it and help us out in that way?
One day, we met with Reemberto Rodriguez, who is awesome and has been a huge cheerleader for us in this whole thing. He said, “You should look at the World Building. They need you. You should be in there. You should go to the World Building.” We weren’t sure how we felt. Shala was okay with it, but I was like, “I don’t know if we want to be in an office building. Is that the right vibe? Is that what we want to do?” We said, “Let’s just go look at it.”
We went and looked at it and immediately saw great views through big beautiful windows, saw how we could have a nice open space with various nooks and crannies to put amenities in. So we decided to inquire more.
Turns out that they were super willing to work with us. They said, “Yes, we’ll put in a kitchen for you and yes, we’ll paint this wall gray and these walls blue and yes, we knock this wall down and all those walls down, and yes we can get you in in a month.” Everything just started falling into place and it had been a long journey of looking at real estate, so we were excited for things to actually start looking real.
So we moved in in March and it has been great. No, it’s not some huge, exposed duct, brick wall, amazing place that’s 5, 000 or 10,000 square feet, but again, that’s not really what we were looking for. If we were going to be in a place like that, we would have been under a lot of pressure to find members and pay our bills. We never wanted that pressure on ourselves or on our members. It’s been great. We love our space. We’re so excited being here.
The World Building has been so great to work with. It has been really exciting so far to see how many people are so receptive to Creative Colony. People have been receptive since our first interest meeting in August. We’ve been open a couple weeks now and we have twelve members. That’s really exciting. We’re giving tours three times a week.
What’s really cool is that we have the flexibility to mold Creative Colony to whatever our community needs it to be. A great example is, we set our membership levels and we opened doors and that’s what we had. We had thought through every detail that we possibly could before we hit the point of where we just have to start doing things and we’ll figure the rest out as we go. We started hearing from people a need for another membership (which we eventually called a “Lite Membership”). That’s a package of 5 day passes for $95. You don’t get a mailing address with it, but you get all the other perks of being a member. People were saying, “Yeah, that would be great”. We have the flexibility to say, “Okay, sure. Boom. Lite Membership. Here’s ya go.” People love it. It’s become a stepping-stone for people to try out the space. They’re not locked into anything. It’s not that expensive. They can see how they like it and go from there.
It has been cool to hear feedback from people to tell us how it can be better, what we can do in the future and ask: “Have you thought about doing ___________?” We have the flexibility to be able to listen and actually take action. We don’t have investors that we have to answer to and get clearance from. We are able to just change and grow as we need to, so that’s been fun.
What does the community currently look like?
We have a couple of writers. We have a comedian, which is really cool. No, don’t go ask him if he can tell you a joke. I’ve tried. It doesn’t work.
“No, seriously, say something funny.”
That’s not how it works.
He’s really cool. He’s just calm and peaceful and I really want to go see his act. We have a filmmaker, a graphic designer, a programmer, and an actor who just came in the other day. It’s exactly what we’ve been looking for.
It has been tough because there are those awkward situations where you feel bad because someone has inquired by email, phone or come in for a tour, and they’re not exactly what we’re going for. I know that sounds kind of bad, but it’s the truth. We try and be very upfront with it. We try and figure out how we can convey that in a more clear way and make sure people understand, you know, a lot of coworking spaces are open to all types of members, and that’s great. But we have a limited amount of space, and we have a very specific goal and vision and that is to serve creative professionals exclusively. There have been times, for instance, a logistics person has come in and we had to say, “We don’t really think this is the right fit for you. We apologize and we hope you’re able to find another great space,” but that’s what we’re about right now. That’s tough. I don’t like telling people that, and from a business standpoint, it sounds weird to be like, “No, we don’t want your money.” But we have a vision and we really want to stick to it and be passionate about it and sometimes that means making the tough choices.
How do you engage the community?
What I love about coworking and why I particularly like my job as community manager is I love connecting people. I love getting to know every single member here and knowing who they are, what they’re looking for, what they’re doing, what they’re goals are. I’m always thinking about who I can connect them with. Is it a member here? Is it someone out there?
That’s number one: we are always thinking about how we can get everyone involved in our community here at Creative Colony, as well as in the Silver Spring community.
Another way I’ve been trying to engage with the community is keeping my eyes and ears open to all the events that are going on and making sure that we’re doing out part to promote them. For example, I’ve been talking to Mary Murphy about her plans for the Silver Spring Sharefest. We’ve been talking and they’re going to start having their meetings here. We’re excited about that. We’re always trying to know what’s going on around the community. We’re seeing how we can be a resource for people and how we can serve them with our space here. They need a place for meetings; we have a meeting room. We love what you’re doing. We want to be involved. Come be here.
We’re also going to be doing monthly, what we call, “Creative Play”. We started with our team at SW Creatives. We did it last month where we went out into the streets of Silver Spring, and we took cameras with us. We took a bunch of pictures of Silver Spring to see if anything good would come out of it to put up on our walls. It was a great team-building exercise and just a fun way to get outside and do something different and creative together. We’re going to start involving the rest of the community with that and seeing how we can go out and do something cool in Silver Spring. Just for an hour on a Wednesday morning that can get your juices flowing.
Another thing that we’re excited about doing is quarterly service projects. As you know, SW Creatives works with nonprofits, and that’s been the heartbeat of the organization. For Shala and me and all the other staff members. Everyone on staff sponsors children in developing countries, I obviously run the film festival… service is something that we’re all passionate about. They’ve been doing this a little bit before I came on, but we’re going to make it a standing type ting every quarter. We’ll serve a local nonprofit. We’re talking to Shepherd’s Table right now about setting up the next quarter’s project. We’re excited that they’re right down the street. We can just walk over there. We partnered with A Wider Circle for our launch party to collect donations and we were able to give them a bunch of stuff. That is, actual goods, not just financial donations. That’s another way that we’re excited to let people know that we’re here, we want to do cool things. We want connect with people. We want to connect our people with your people. We want to do what we can to make Silver Spring better and to enhance everyone’s experience here. What’s fun is that we have a lot of ideas, workshops, and events, and partnerships. We also just need to let it happen organically and not force anything to happen. It’s important to let people know that this is what we’re about and this is what we want to do so that can happen.
Another thing I’m excited about is working with the new brewery, Denizen’s, that’s coming. We met the marketing manager, Taylor, at our launch party. She’s actually going to be playing on our football team. We’re excited to be planning some sort of Creative Colony member’s only pre-opening tour and tasting of the brewery. It’s things like that that get me really excited. I’m excited to how it all unfolds over the next couple months and years. I’m excited to see what our members bring to the table, too.
How have you seen Silver Spring change?
It’s hard for me to answer. I’ve actually seen Silver Spring change me. We’ve been here for three and a half years, we’ve lived in Silver Spring the whole time, but it’s been less than a year that we’ve really got involved. When we first moved here, we lived at Forest Glen and Georgia, and we would go out to the dinner and go to the movies, but we never really thought about it. We were never intentional, like, “Oh, the farmer’s market’s cool. Silver Spring’s so cool and quaint.” That’s as far as we would get. I didn’t know, “oh, there’s Fenton Street Market and that’s separate from the farmer’s market and this really cool girl runs that.” All these different moving parts, we just never really got involved in. That has been interesting to start getting more involved and seeing what’s been going on. Who are the people that are making it run? Who are the people that are making it fun? (Hey I rhymed) Whose restaurant is that?
It’s changed me from the side of it is really important to know where you’re living and to know what’s going on. I told my husband, Spencer, I’ve been excited the last couple weeks because there’s been two or three times just driving around, going home from work or whatever, and been like, “Oh, I know that person. I know that person. I know that person.” That’s so cool. Not that I know that their cat’s name is Fido and they have a grandkid, the super details. I loved to know those at some point, but it’s just cool to be able to recognize faces around town. It’s given me a whole new undiscovered passion that I’m exited to see how I can explore more.
What that looks like and what Silver Spring has been able to change and bring out in me. I hope that we can, in turn, change Silver Spring in a good way. As far as how I’ve seen it change, I don’t have a good answer for that. My base line is lame. I got nothing.
What do you love about Silver Spring?
I love the people that get it. I’m feel like I’m beginning to become one of those people. People who are like, “This is a cool place. Let’s make it fun. Let’s be passionate about what we’re doing. Let’s care about our community.” That’s what I really like about it. I get excited when I’m somewhere, maybe in DC or somewhere, and I meet someone and they’re like, “I live in Silver Spring.” I’ll say, “Oh, yeah? Where? Have you been here? Tell me about a good, new restaurant.” I love talking to people about their Silver Spring experience. It was in House of Cards the other night. Totally talking crap about Silver Spring. “Bunch of suburbanites. Up in the burbs,” they were calling us. Do you watch that show?
Well the Twitterverse was alive when that happened.
That’s funny. It wasn’t very nice. Well, it wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t anything glamorous. What I love about Silver Spring is the people and the community. I also love hearing about what it was because I wasn’t here for that. There’s a guy here named, Philip. He lived here around here nine years ago. He just came back and he’s like, “I can’t believe what Silver Spring is now. This used to be the place where no one wanted to go, and now I work here, and there’s a coworking space, and there’s all these cool little restaurants.” It’s fun to hear where it’s come from, and people who have lived here have a certain pride in that. People have worked really hard to get it to that. I think the history of it, and the people and community is what makes it really cool around here.
What do you dislike about Silver Spring?
I wish it were a little prettier. I wish the architecture was a little cooler or there were more centralized parks, but maybe that’s just because it’s been winter. There’s nothing green, yet. Maybe if this was an interview in the middle of Spring, it would be glorious. When we were walking around taking pictures, there are only so many pretty shots you can get, but maybe we were looking in the wrong place.
Sligo Creek Parkway is awesome. That’s my commute home now. I try not to hit anybody biking or jogging.
You’re a real humanitarian.
It’s a good goal. I get home, “Honey, I didn’t hit anybody today.”
When you go out in Silver Spring, where would someone find you?
We like Quarry House because it kind of reminds us of home, though I don’t know why. We don’t have basements in California, so it doesn’t make sense. But we like it. We love going to the movies. We love AFI Theater. We love trying new restaurants, so it’s hard for me to say we love going to these three restaurants. Our next stop is Scion. You can always find us at a new restaurant opening.
Name a hidden gem in Silver Spring.
I have a good answer for this. We just discovered a hidden gem. Maybe it’s just a hidden gem to us. The Washington Printmakers Gallery. We’ve been talking to Jose from Pyramid Atlantic. He’s a super cool guy. We met with him when Creative Colony was still getting going. He was obviously really supportive. We were bouncing ideas off each other. He was giving us advice on what it was like for him to grow and maintain a community, because that’s essentially what he’s been doing at Pyramid Atlantic.
We emailed him and told him we have our space and now we need some artwork. He put us in touch with Washington Printmaker Gallery and Damon over there. We went and checked that out. So cool! It’s this little gallery up in the loft and one of them is in this crazy vault. You go into the crazy vault and then there’s some crazy fire thing a furnace or heater and they’re displaying a bunch of kids artwork and they have a bunch of exhibits going on. So I just thought, oh, this is where I should come to buy a piece of art because it’s all local. I thought that was a cool hidden gem.
I’d like to encourage people to support one another here. Running the Reel Water Film Festival, I know firsthand know what it’s like to need support for an event or a cause. I’m always so much more grateful now that I know how it is to have friends and people come out to support your event. I always want members here to know if you have something going on, we’ll promote it. We’ll do what we can to get the word out there. If I can be there, I’ll be there. I think it’s important for people to recognize that if you want support for something, you have to support other people, too. That’s going to help everybody in the community. That’s a big thing that would be great to see more of.
That’s the attitude and message that I, as the community manager, am trying to give to people. Support one another. Show up for people. Christy, on our staff here, raises money for the National MS society. Give her twenty bucks. Help out with fundraisers as long as it’s financially possible. Help each other. Be there for each other. Support each other, and then you’re going to get support. Everybody’s going to grow and there’s going to be great results.