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Sure, there are perks to freelance life like flexible hours and the ability to work from home, but ask any honest independent creative professional and they’ll tell you there are downsides too. One of the biggest? Less daily opportunities for collaboration and interaction with like-minded peers, something The Oatmeal creator Matthew Inman comically captures in “Why Working from Home is both Awesome and Horrible

Recognizing this, a growing number of co-working spaces have emerged worldwide with 537 in the U.S. according to DeskMag. Touted in a VentureBeat article by Genevieve DeGuzman as an “alternative to incubators,” and offering a variety of benefits from more formal workshops and training to informal networking, co-working spaces have quickly established themselves as a new creative business breeding ground.

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Enter Weld. Newly launched by world traveled, freelance photographer Austin Mann, Weld is “an exclusive community of independent photographers and creatives” in Dallas, Texas. Formerly a fully outfitted commercial photography space, Weld boasts “premier studio space, super-fast internet, world-class coffee, community work spaces, meeting rooms, independent workshops and much more.” This past Tuesday, Mann whose work has been published by National Geographic, The New York Times, The Washington Post, ABC and the Travel Channel to name a few, took time to speak with me in between projects while en route from Waco to Dallas, Texas.

Affable and easy to talk too, Mann related the personal journey that had led to him launching Weld. “I grew up in Kansas and went to school in Texas. My dad was a visual communications guy so I grew up surrounded by all kinds of advertising images and media.” Mann explained how his second year of college was a “pivotal time” during which he became a Christian and decided to make a shift away from “living the ultimate college guy life” of “partying and getting wasted” to spending more time appreciating and capturing the beauty of the world around him.

After a mission trip to Africa, he completed an internship at National Geographic and began working with non profits, NGOs and faith-based organizations, helping them “to realize their vision and raise awareness about their organizations,” culminating in 2008, in a 60-day trip of 9 countries with his dad acting as photo-assistant. The momentum continued from there, as Mann documented initiatives to improve education, provide clean water and facilitate peace.

Looking back over his time in 2011 Mann realized he had moved 142 times in one year. Contemplating next steps he decided that “being more active” was probably not the answer. “I started thinking about how I could play a role, facilitate and enable others to do great things in their community, in the world.” Mann said, and explained how he saw a “big need for something like Weld for photographers, web designers, graphic designers, make-up artists and other creatives who are often “more or less isolated from their community and peers, working by themselves.”

Despite the community that online networks can provide, Mann, a self described technology lover believes that online networks are a good supplement to, but not a replacement for real life, face-to-face interaction “like shaking hands, or having a beer” and asserted that there was a definite “need for a great place for creatives to come together, inspire and enable each other, create and meet.”

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In describing how Weld differs from other co-working spaces Mann explained that other co-working spaces are “largely targeted at tech start ups” and more traditional businesses, whereas Weld is designed specifically with creatives in mind. To that end great care and attention have gone into every aspect of the 10,000 square foot space that includes two giant photo studios complete with 40-foot seamless backdrop, client lounge and dressing rooms. Details such as private phone booths to ensure quiet calls, a variety of workspace types (bullpen and private) and conference rooms (intimate and board meeting style) along with deliberate curating of the community, all contribute to crafting the ideal creative workspace.

I asked why Dallas was chosen as Weld headquarters, Mann replied that in addition to lower cost and risk compared to other cities “the Dallas creative community, in my experience, is inherently more communal [than most],” making it “a great beta market,” adding that he would love to scale the Weld concept in other cities across the United States such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta and Seattle.

Characterizing community response to Weld Mann said, “One of the most encouraging things [has been] the passion in the community and sweat equity invested,” and quoted a comment from the interior designer who worked on the space “I want this place to be awesome because I want to work here and I want all my friends to work here.”

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With the help of a dedicated group of workers and volunteers Weld officially launched on May 11, 2012,to a turn out of 200-300 people and has already received 30 online applications. Depending on member usage they expect to be near desired capacity by end of summer. Applications are open, but Mann does say referrals “pull a lot of weight” in the application process. For more information or to apply visit weld.co or follow them on twitter @WELDspaces.

Austin Mann
Photo by Beau Bumpas