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April 19, 2023 | Shannon Smith

Creating a community space for Knoxville artists 

“The biggest and grandest version of SpaceCraft is essentially like a WeWork but for performing artists,” said founder Jaleria Rivera.

Jaleria Rivera didn’t grow up dancing, but that’s how she plans to spend her free time in her adult life.

“I’ve always had a connection to art, but I never had the confidence to pursue it,” she said.
“So it wasn’t until the pandemic that I was like, well, I have all this free time. What do I actually like? What do I want to do?” 

The answer was dance. 

“I’m an adult beginner. One of the biggest things that kept me from pursuing any type of art was, is it too late? I can’t be a professional, but like, who cares?” 

It was that realization that made Rivera think about the other adults in her shoes, the ones who want to play instruments or do comedy or dance just for fun, but don’t have a place to do it. 

“A low-stakes environment just to try things, to pursue a curiosity,” she said. “I just want to craft and have a space to do that.” 

Enter SpaceCraft, Rivera’s solution to the lack of performing arts practice space in Knoxville. That missing space almost pushed Rivera to move to a new city a few years ago, until she thought maybe she could create what she and other Knoxville artists need. 

“The biggest and grandest version of SpaceCraft is essentially like a WeWork but for performing artists,” she said. “So you can go in and you have your subscription, and it gets you access to a private studio where you could be in there for a couple hours with you and your band. Then after practicing you can just hang out in this big playscape.” 

That playscape would have turf mounds, an outdoor stage, and essentially serve as a playground and community space for adult artists. 

“Here’s the space for you to become the artist you want to be,” said Rivera. “There are so many different stages of the artist’s journey, and we are fulfilling the central need that is just practice. And that’s something that’s universal, if you’re an amateur or if you are already a professional paid musician.”

Rivera took this idea and entered the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center’s ‘What’s the Big Idea?’ Pitch Competition. It’s a 48-hour mentoring workshop that helps solidify branding, a business plan, and more, ending with a pitch competition and the chance to take home a check for $10,000. SpaceCraft was chosen as one of seven finalists. 

“Those 48 hours were hands down so stressful, so exhausting, but in the best way possible. I’ve never been more tired but also so energized at the same time,” said Rivera. 

She didn’t walk away with the grand prize, but she did walk away with a business plan. 

“The dream version of SpaceCraft costs around $1.8 million, so it is very much a long-term plan and strategy,” said Rivera. “So after ‘What’s the Big Idea?’ and collaborating with all of my mentors, what we decided to move forward with is starting as an independent collective. So having a goal to get a minimum of 100 memberships in different cities.” 

Jaleria Rivera, center, with Open Arts Knoxville 2022.

Rivera said SpaceCraft would work best in smaller to mid-size cities like Knoxville, Asheville, or Charleston, where there are hubs for art but not places for artists to gather. With enough people signed up, that funding can go toward the large warehouse-sized hub Rivera dreams of. 

“I plan to launch digital memberships in September and start doing in-person recess events,” she said. “Bring your own project and just come hang out with us every month and meet other people creating in the area.” 

Rivera notes that this type of investment in the arts isn’t just for the benefit of the artists, but everyone in Knoxville. 

“Artists are also entrepreneurs who are actively contributing to our economy,” she said. “At the end of the day, if we do want to be a like a Gig City or a hub for tech, people need art and culture to stay.” 

Getting them to stay means having the tools and spaces necessary for success, and thanks to ‘What’s the Big Idea?’ Rivera is more focused now than ever. 

“Even though we didn’t win, what we did gain is this momentum of other people seeing themselves in the idea,” she said. “I just want SpaceCraft to be a home for other artists to connect with each other and build their practice.” 

And if she won anything, it’s proof that she was right. That this is a good idea. 

“I did the right thing. Right before I was going to leave Knoxville, I said, let’s give it a chance. Let’s get to know people. Let’s get to know my neighbors. And by doing that, that’s how I got here today,” said Rivera. “It doesn’t matter if it takes us two years to make money or be profitable. As long as I’m building a community that mutually loves and respects each other, that’s all I need.”

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