Minneapolis Institute of Arts hosts co-working pilot Hothouse

Museum surroundings inspire community programming

By Erica Rivera
Thursday, September 25, 2014

Co-working is a hot trend, one that recently spread to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA) with Hothouse, a pilot program halfway through a 12-week residence at the museum.

Sarah Lutman, an MIA entrepreneur in residence and the self-proclaimed “ring leader” of the group says there wasn’t a lot of planning before she and 35 participants converted the Villa Rosa Room on the top floor of the MIA into an office and presentation space. Furniture was pulled from museum storage for the work area and a projector and sound system were already set up in the gathering and presentation space.

Hothouse participants were recruited from a variety of backgrounds — radio, publishing, small business, nonprofit — but share a common thread of creating public programming. Lutman’s hope was that Hothouse would inspire them to use the museum’s capacity in new ways, such as hosting events. One such Hothouse experiment features Tesfa Wondemagegnehu, the conductor of the APM Radio Choir  a new group of young Minneapolis singers. On Sept. 27, he'll host a free singing tour through five galleries at the MIA. A docent will provide background information on the artwork and Wondemagegnehu will share a teachable song that illuminates particular pieces.

Rather than rely on the museum to generate interest in the pilot, Lutman encourages cross-promotion from participants as well as #Hothouse on Twitter to share the program’s happenings on social media. Of course, it's the face-to-face interaction that makes people gravitate toward co-working; up to 15 Hothouse participants take advantage of the space at any given time. “I can see them developing working relationships and they’re looking for ways to connect,” Lutman says. “We are going to see new collaborations come out of the mix of people.”

Another Hothouse perk is the visual "wow" factor. “It’s really different being inside a museum than being in a café or restaurant,” Lutman says. “If you decide to take a break and go for a walk, you’re among one of the leading collections of art in America. Aesthetically, it’s very beautiful, with the garden and trees and huge windows. It has a peacefulness that’s not usually available to us when we’re at work.”

The change of scenery also sparks new ideas and curiosity about how other spaces in the Twin Cities could be used for co-working. Libraries, hotels, and even hospitals are just some of the community buildings that have utilized the co-working model across the country. As for whether Hothouse will continue when the residency ends, Lutman says, “We really don’t know. It’s a pilot to see what we learn and if we continue this, what would we do differently and how would we do it differently?”