Melissa Dessart’s life changed “like a flash.” She was sitting in a coffee shop when the idea came to her to create a space bringing together diverse “creatives” under one roof to innovate, share and support one other. After 12 years in merchandising for Target, followed by a stint at Capella University, Dessart was yearning to tap her considerable creative side. She and husband, Kevin Dessart, founded the 34,000-square-foot Creators Space in St. Paul’s Lowertown, preserving the high ceilings and exposed brick of the former parking garage. The mother of three from Inver Grove Heights talks about the remarkable space that’s come alive, creativity as key to rebuilding society, and what she’s learned from failure.
Q: The Creators Space (creatorsspace.com) is so much more than a space. How do you begin to explain to people what you’ve built?
A: It’s a creativity center and coffeehouse, providing space and tools for creative people to incubate and bring artistic ideas to life. Our offerings include event spaces, a photo studio, classrooms, an artisan market and artistry alcove to show and sell work, a full pottery studio, four collaborative co-working spaces, learning labs, and private studios for music and recording. We’ve got classes in everything from painting to drawing to mind-body connections. We’re open to the public Wednesdays through Sundays, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., so people can come see it for themselves.
Q: When did you open?
A: June of 2018. Twelve months after envisioning the space in December of 2016, I had quit my job, we’d secured a loan, found the space, hired contractors and begun renovation. After six months of gutting the building, hanging drywall and procuring furniture and equipment, we opened the doors. It was nothing short of magical.
Q: But, then …
A: But then we shut down. We were open from mid-June until December. Quite honestly, it wasn’t working. The ways we thought people would use the space were not aligned. So many people were like, “What? You can’t close the doors.” I knew they were right. You try something. You get up and try again.
Q: You shut the doors for four months. What did you do next?
A: I first needed a month to clear my head. I did a ton of meditation. I like to think of myself a little bit like a mountain climber, never giving up until I reach the peak. But I needed to calm my mind.
Q: What did you do differently before reopening in March of 2019?
A: I did a lot of listening. I asked, what should we have been doing? What areas did we fail in? But, also, what was working? We built a multitiered membership model with immense customization. You need meeting and event space? Classroom space? Exhibition space? Great, we’ve got that for you. We offer discounts to seniors, students and nonprofits, and daily passes.
Q: All memberships include “Just Begin” classes. Tell us about those.
A: These are introductory classes. Maybe you haven’t done pottery or painting, for example, or maybe you did it a long time ago. These are designed to get people to think creatively. Sometimes, it ends up being an art therapy space.
Q: Have you found similar spaces?
A: I haven’t seen anything like this in terms of scope and diversity of offerings. I think right away of great spaces like Northern Clay Center in Minneapolis. There are plenty of artists’ co-ops and makers spaces that do something similar, that share tools and space. And obviously, co-working spaces have taken off everywhere. But I felt that I needed to create one space that would allow vast diversity in terms of creativity; our creatives are better because they feed off the energy of other artists and makers here. This allows everyone to grow.
Q: Who is drawn here as artists?
A: We have people with doctorates, we have hair dressers and deejays. There’s no hierarchy. It just happens organically. Every artist gets 70% of their proceeds sold in the market and gallery areas. They can also teach classes here. We want to create conditions where our creators can really start to make a living wage.
Q: There’s a great little theater in the lower level. How do you envision using that?
A: We’ll host comedy on Wednesdays and spoken word on Thursdays. We’ll have live music on Fridays. It’s an opportunity to get up close with the artist. These weekly events will begin in September.
Q: The sanctuary is your favorite space. Describe it for our readers.
A: The sanctuary is all about clearing the mind. Three rooms are dedicated to healing arts, including tarot card reading, intuitive reading, reiki, massage, yoga. We also have a salt cave that uses the healing properties of Himalayan salt to relax the mind and clear unhealthy energy.
Q: Are you in the black yet?
A: Not yet, but we did just bring in an investor to help us. For him, it’s all about wanting to support us. We’re not making any money yet, but that’s not why we did it. Creatives are the key for our society to come back in harmony, to help break down systems no longer serving us. If, through this space, we can remind people of our natural tendency to collaborate, to think about new ways to work together, to tap into that creative spirit, then we can make change. Creators and makers have earned and deserve a place like this.