Arts Orgs: Places 2Meet or Not2Meet?

I’m getting married in a couple weeks and then headed on my honeymoon so this will be my last post until mid-August. Enjoy these summer days!

Seats2Meet - Utrecht

So, I recently learned about an innovation in meeting spaces that was founded in the Netherlands and has begun to spread across Europe. It’s called Seats2Meet. The concept is a communal space where independent contractors or those simply in need of a temporary workspace can come to plug-in, meet-up, and network. I visited a new location at Utrecht Central Station, near my home.

The day I visited the place was buzzing but still conducive to taking care of business. The vibe was relaxed and social, but definitely work-focused. The users of the space, each invariably armed with a laptop or tablet, worked solo or clustered in 2s and 3s at round and rectangular tables throughout an open space. Additionally, I spied a private ‘board room’ and a ‘quiet room’. There was also a coffee station in the middle of the room.

Talking with the staff, I learned that work tables/seats are free to use, however, Seats2Meet requests that anyone interested to use the space sign up at least one day prior. This allows them to alert potential users if the space appears to be maxed out at certain times of the day and, if so, to encourage users to come at a different time or go to a different location. All users have access to free coffee and tea throughout the day, and (in some locations) a free lunch (that’s right, a free lunch). Seats2Meet also stresses in its materials that it is both an online and live space to network and share knowledge.

How is this paid for, you ask? Well, according to the person that gave me the scoop, the free seats are subsidized by the those who pay to use private meeting spaces and spots in the quiet work rooms, which are rented in blocks of time for an hourly fee; (so, at least in part, it operates with a Freemium business model). I gather that the company also has a partnership program whereby entrepreneurs can license the Seats2Meet name and start franchises in their communities.

If I were (re)designing an arts venue these days, I think I would look into the feasibility of a Seats2Meet franchise being located in the space. Arts venues would seem to have at least a few advantages as locales for these work/meeting spaces: they often have space that goes unused during the day; they are associated with ‘creativity’ (and Seats2Meet is particularly interested in appealing to creative freelance types); and arts organizations could go one better than a ‘free lunch’ — they could potentially host happy hour performances or exhibitions at the end of the workday or week. For those organizations with excess real estate, or striving to be a ‘community hub’, or endeavoring to get more people to use their spaces during the day, perhaps a Seats2Meet franchise (or something similar) is worth exploring? Here’s a link to information on the partnership program.

But beyond the potential incorporation of the Seats2Meet concept into the planning of an arts facility, I keep thinking about the expectation (actually one of the stated rules on a sign when you visit) that Seats2Meet members (unless they are in the ‘quiet room’, presumably) should be open to sharing their knowledge and talking with others. Seats2Meet is striving to create an online network and to be a community, not simply a work space for the knowmadic.

Ostensibly nonprofit arts organizations are in the community-building business; but you sure wouldn’t know it when you visit many of them. I wonder how many arts groups would hang a sign in the lobby saying, “By coming here today you are not simply viewing a performance, you are participating in a community event. We ask you to introduce yourself to those standing and seated around you and to be open to conversation from others. After the performance, we’ll keep the bar open and continue to serve drinks and desserts for a couple hours; we encourage you to stay awhile and talk with others who came to see this performance tonight.”

Of course, it’s much easier to get people to stay if you have a cozy space where they can sit and talk. Hmmmm …. perhaps an evening use for that Seats2Meet location? … Workspace by day, lounge by night?

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Comments

  1. says

    There are co-working spaces in many places that operate along similar lines — not necessarily focused on the arts, but not preventing the inclusion of artsworkers either. In my area, Gangplank offers such a facility (www.gangplank.com).

  2. says

    The new Birmingham library, due to open god know’s when – I think 2013, communicated to the public that meeting friends and colleagues at the new building would be easier and more friendlier than libraries of the past. Whew, crisis averted. As books become more digital, I’ve always thought libraries could become more communal – like a good place to talk about a book, AFTER reading it digitally. Even eating there would be a step forward. Of course, library space would be good for any old reason to meet up, digitally inspired or otherwise.

  3. says

    In Australia, I was told about a theatre which decided to introduce a “singles night” and simply changed the social rules as you suggest: you don’t need to be introduced, you can simply introduce yourself and start up a conversation – meeting and talking to people is good.
    Would more people stay and talk after performances if we introduced this friendly informality? I often hear people saying things on the stairs when they are leaving an event and would love to join their conversation about their reaction to a performance – sometimes I do, and it is always positive to share opinions.
    And the Seats2Meet concept would work in a lot of the venue foyers I know, especially those with all day cafes. Isn’t this the ‘third space’ strategy on which Starbucks and the like base their success: somewhere not home, not college/workplace, but home-out-of-home?

  4. says

    Nice blog about our formula. Indeed the strength of the concept is to create an abundance: space, time, knowledge and more. Also we connect the physical world and the virtual world and create thus a serendipity of the meeting of people. The partnership program offers knowledge and software, free, until partners start making money on the project. We are growing very fast indeed.

  5. says

    This is exactly the reason we are turning sterile volunteer desks/landing areas in our museum into “creativity lounges.” The goal is for people to be able to use them to craft and make together based on their own interests. We need public spaces for meetups, and I feel like museums and libraries in particular should be the best places for such meetings, not commercial spaces.

    I thought this post was going to go in a different direction – to ask what kind of community-building we want to engineer. A lounge is not necessarily social–and as you point out, most of the Seats2Meet people are doing business. I want the museum to be a place for use, and I want that use to be mostly self-guided, but I also want to design the space to be more conducive to certain kinds of use than others. For example, tables that are good for quilting may not be as good for laptops. A table with a chessboard built in is very different than one with a lazy susan. And so on. I think every arts venue has to decide what kinds of meetings/use they want to support and creatively design to encourage that use without being prescriptive.

  6. says

    There’s a wonderful non-profit co-working space for composers (mainly) in Brooklyn Heights called Exapno (exapno.org). the members do pay a fee, but have full access to a space to work, rehearse, hold meetings, and very frequently give informal concerts on weekend evenings. Exapno is currently in a building shared with other tenants, using space for their own purposes (a freelance design firm, an architecture firm, a bakery). It’s fairly quickly becoming a powerful resource for composers and their collaborators. Full disclosure: I’m on the board, and obviously think it’s pretty great. Exapno isn’t what you describe, an arts org with a venue sharing its space when it can with artists and pros outside the field, but it is an interesting way of extending co-working into the arts.

  7. says

    The idea (and method) of “By coming here today you are not simply viewing a performance, you are participating in a community event. We ask you to introduce yourself to those standing and seated around you and to be open to conversation from others. After the performance, we’ll keep the bar open and continue to serve drinks and desserts for a couple hours; we encourage you to stay awhile and talk with others who came to see this performance tonight.” makes we ask: is building community an arts organization’s goal, or its by-product?

    I think the answer depends on the core values of the organization, and the fundamental reasons that organization exists.

    At Music on Main in Vancouver, we see music as the vehicle to build community. For us, encouraging people to introduce themselves, meet the artists over a drink after the concert, and talk about what they’ve heard is central to our work. As more arts organizations work to answer “why” they do the work they do, they might find themselves putting that audience experience, and possibly community-building, in a more primary position.

  8. Mark Gerth says

    Love the idea. And I think this parallels some ideas on ways in which arts organizations can leverage interest in the informal arts in order to serve their own long-term interest in creating participants…

    “The first way is to enable existing informal arts groups in doing what they already do fairly well. The most common obstacle they face is a space to meet, which is available at any arts organization with a physical space. Sometimes groups need theaters, stages, or other specialized spaces (like community theaters and perhaps a choir or orchestra), but sometimes all they need is a room. ”

    More insight into a full study of informal arts at createquity – http://createquity.com/2011/07/arts-policy-library-informal-arts.html

    And another example of creative / meeting / work space is JELLY – http://wiki.workatjelly.com/w/page/12752597/FrontPage, “It’s for anyone who’d like to work alongside other creative people in a welcoming environment”

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