This month, MAKE SOUTH BEND celebrates our fifth anniversary in River Park.
When we first opened our doors, we had a lot of hopes for what the future might bring, but we didn’t expect that we would be where we are now.
Looking back on the last half a decade, there’s plenty to celebrate.
Here are some of the highlights.
It All Started In a Basement…
Six years ago, Nat and I were teaching together at a school in town. We had been there a while, and we thought that we would make our careers there.
But then something unexpected happen…
Nat got laid off.
He was given a month’s severance, so he took the next few weeks to reevaluate. During that time, he discovered the world of freelancing and self-employment. A few weeks later, I had put in my notice to pursue art full time.
We spent that summer learning new mediums, buying new tools, and selling at different craft fairs. Our very first Art Beat—the first week without our teaching summer pay—we made the same we would have made as full time teachers. To us, it was confirmation that we made the right choice.
As the months wore on, we kept losing more of our basement to projects, inventory, and tools. And yet, it didn’t slow down. We were still buying new tools and making more work.
Sometimes though, that art didn’t work out. After spending a ton of money on leather working tools, I realized that I didn’t actually like doing it.
I looked to Nat and said, “I wish there was a place that had the tools that I could come and try out on my own.”
I started looking around for different makerspaces. While there were some scattered in larger cities, there wasn’t anything in our area.
But maybe I could do something to change that...
Taking the Plunge
I got to googling. I started researching what it would take to open my own business. I found templates for business plans and met with local business mentors.
One night, Nat was playing a show at the Well, a coffeehouse on Mishawaka Avenue. I walked to China House to get some dinner, and on the way, I found an open storefront with big, beautiful windows and a sign that said “For Rental Information, Call…”
I copied the number and gave it a call. The next week, Nat and I were touring the space. Our minds raced with possibilities.
We went home and applied for small business finding, got our insurance in order, started a website, and started negotiating a lease with the landlord.
By Christmas, we had the keys in hand. We spent the next couple months cleaning, painting, and getting the shop ready, contacting vendors, and building buzz.
On February 17, 2015, we opened for business. We weren’t even sure anyone would walk through the doors, let alone that we would still be open five years later.
Looking back, it’s hard to believe that we were able to do everything in the original space. Most of our classes took place in the center of the main space—now home to our 2D art supplies.Our tech lab was shoved between the metalworking tools and the sewing machines. If someone ran the laser cutter, the smell of burning wood (or plastic) would fill the shop—not a great thing when you have a class full of students.
We had a handful of members, but their access was limited to shop hours. If someone wanted to come on a day we were closed, they had to call us and hope we were available.
The next summer, we threw the very first Rebel Art Fest—in our parking lot. We put eight bands under a tent, twenty artists along our sidewalk, and three food trucks on the street. And, it was a great time.
Three years ago, we were feeling the pressure of our limited space. We were tired of cramming twenty students into a space that could comfortably fit ten. We were tired of fumigating the place every time we ran the laser cutter. We started looking for other options.
Then our landlord presented us with an offer: our neighboring corner space had struggled to keep a tenant the whole time we’d been there. They offered it to us for a price we couldn’t refuse.
The new space allowed us to add a dedicated tech lab, additional private studios, a conference room for private meetings and classes, and a huge classroom that could comfortably accommodate over thirty people at a time.
We were also able to purchase a better security system that allowed us to offer twenty-four hour access to our members.
At the same time, Rebel Art Fest continued to grow.
After two years in the parking lot, South Bend Venues Parks and Arts approached us to hold the festival in Potawatomi Park as part of Best. Week. Ever. Across two years in the park, we’ve hosted twenty-two musical acts, over a hundred artists, dozens of food trucks, and over 8,000 attendees. Now, Rebel Art Fest is the premiere kickoff event of Best. Week. Ever., and this year will be bigger than ever.
Look How Far We’ve Come
In the last five years, we’ve done more than we thought we ever could.
We’ve had four Rebel Art Fests, four Urban Artist Markets (that doesn’t even count the various pop up markets we’ve hosted), hundreds of members, hundreds of featured artists, over ten thousand students, and countless guests—not to mention a spattering of spots on the local news.
And we’re not slowing down anytime soon.
But, none of this couldn’t have happened without the support of our community and all of the local artists and makers who have joined up with us to create a thriving creative community.
If that includes you, thank you, from the bottom of my heart. But if that isn’t you yet, there are plenty of ways to get involved. Take a class, become a member, or stop in to shop local goods, and join us for the next five years.