Helping artisans and artisans open businesses in Johnstown remains the goal of Creator Square Inc., a nonprofit that has helped direct approximately $800,000 toward a downtown Johnstown building in recent years. years.
But the nonprofit is tweaking its plan to fill the facility’s space with people making interesting items to sell.
“This time last year, we launched the program, opened the building, and learned a lot about what will help us succeed in the future,” said Creator Square founder Paul Rosenblatt.
A collaborative creative space and shared gallery is on the ground floor of the building at 134 Gazebo Park, just off Central Park.
There, artisans can use shared equipment, exhibit their work, and perform demonstrations and classes for the general public. After a period of residency, entrepreneurs can even branch out into their own space in the city.
While Creator Square Inc. had a slate of applicants and some crafters-in-residence over the past year, Rosenblatt said the analysis of applicants with sustainable business plans and income to pay rent was proved to be an obstacle.
A business advisory agency, Palo Alto Partners, has been hired to help develop a more sustainable business plan going forward, he said.
“They are finishing a report,” Rosenblatt said. “We expect to receive recommendations in the coming weeks and a rebooted approach will be introduced for Creator Square.
“It’s just about finding the right financial model for the space and marketing it to engage more creators.”
CFA, Southern Alleghenies
About $800,000 in federal and local funds have been invested in Creator Square since 2017 to renovate facilities and purchase equipment, said Debbi Prosser, director of business development for the Southern Alleghenies Planning and Development Commission.
The commission helped Creator Square Inc. secure a $399,000 construction grant from the US Economic Development Administration.
“We work with entrepreneurship, and federal funding for Creator Square became available during the coal industry downturn,” Prosser said.
That grant was matched by equal funding from the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies, she said.
CFA owns the Creator Square Inc.-operated building and is involved in its program overhaul, hiring Palo Alto Partners at $12,000, CFA President and CEO Mike Kane said.
Creator Square is also in talks with a new site manager who would be responsible for the day-to-day operations of the building, he said.
“The job is to recruit the right community of makers to be there,” Kane said. “It didn’t really go the way we wanted. We want people to work there and we want to have programs there. We are also considering having a retail space for makers on the first floor. »
Creator Square Inc. and its facility in downtown Johnstown is also a pillar of a new partnership that has won a $100,000 grant to train creative entrepreneurs in business as well as in their craft.
The partnership between Creator Square, Touchstone Center for Crafts in Fayette County, Johnstown Area Regional Industries and Bridgeway Capital – a Pittsburgh-based social impact investor – is piloting a program in Johnstown that could then be used in other industrial towns across the country. west-central Pennsylvania.
The four organizations have joined together in the Alliance for Creative Rural Economies, or ACRE Partners.
The partnership’s $100,000 grant comes from the Arts Equity Reimagined Fund, presented by a collaboration of 17 foundations from 14 counties and an anonymous donor from the Pittsburgh metro area.
Blake Fleegle, an entrepreneurial coach for Johnstown Area Regional Industries, a regional economic development agency, is responsible for helping the candidates selected by the partnership to establish business plans.
‘Bring Their Business’
The partnership has attracted 50 applicants, broadly defined as creative entrepreneurs, since ACRE Partners held two information sessions in January, Fleegle said.
They include people who work with glass, metal, paint, large installation projects and small jewelry, he said.
“We have started the interview process to narrow down applicants to our final cohort, which is expected to be eight to 10 creative entrepreneurs,” Fleegle said.
Funding allocations per individual in the final cohort would vary according to need, he said.
“Someone may need to speak to a lawyer to make sure their business is set up correctly, another may need to renovate a space for six months,” he said. “We have a lot of money that we are going to give to these people, but we don’t have a fixed amount per person.”
Some of the candidates already live and work in Johnstown. Others don’t live in the area but have expressed interest in moving, Fleegle said.
“The biggest piece of the puzzle is not only that applicants have to be entrepreneurs, they also have to have a desire to bring their business to Johnstown,” he said. “The whole point of this is to help creative businesses while helping to revitalize downtown.”
Russ O’Reilly is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @RussellOReilly.