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Art, community and ‘radical hospitality’ drive downtown makerspace The Mothership

<p>Downtown Durham’s The Mothership features an artist-run shop, a co-working space and an event space available for rent.</p>

Downtown Durham’s The Mothership features an artist-run shop, a co-working space and an event space available for rent.

For many of us, home is our mothers. For makers in the Durham area, home is The Mothership. Located less than a mile off East Campus, the gift shop, co-working facility and event space sells exclusively North Carolinian artisan goods running the gamut from vintage clothing to zines and hosts workers from photographers to consultants. 

According to co-founder Krista Nordgren, The Mothership was founded on the concept of “radical hospitality,” aiming to support all people on their creative and work journeys. In 2013, Nordgren and co-founders Katie DeConto and Megan Bowser established the space as two separate entities — Nordgren’s The Makery, a shop focused on selling products of independent business owners, and DeConto and Bowsers’ Mercury Studio, a coworking and event facility — before combining into its current iteration in 2017. 

“By joining the store and the co-working space, we were signing off on a bigger mission,” Nordgren said. “We [the founders] are all creatives and entrepreneurs ourselves, so we know that there’s a lot of ups and downs … in the journey of making something, whether that’s a business or a piece of art. The mission is to have a space where people can bring more of themselves to the table throughout that.”

The co-working and event spaces are available for rent, with co-working memberships starting at $35 per month and event space rentals starting at $30 per hour. 

“Our infrastructure is set up so that people with ideas can come in and make their ideas happen,” Nordgren said. “This is a space where you can get support and manifest your idea, whatever it is, in the Durham community.”

Local makers, like illustrator Evan McIntyre, have been taking advantage of The Mothership’s open infrastructure for years. After happening upon the space in 2014 through a friend’s party hosted in it, McIntyre — and his art — were quickly embraced by the community. 

“[In Florida, where I’m from], the arts scene is very dog-eat-dog. No one stops and looks at your work and says ‘Cool, let me talk to you about what you’re doing,’” McIntyre said. “Coming here, I expected the same. But I think that’s actually what drew me [to The Mothership]— I came in and they were like ‘Oh, you illustrate? Cool, let me see it.’” 

McIntyre, like many of the makers who sell in The Mothership’s shop, also helps staff the store. The majority of the store’s staff is composed of makers or co-working members, who take on shifts in exchange for shelf or desk space. 

“It’s going to sound cliché, but the community really is the best part,” McIntyre said. The Mothership “really pushes for an inclusive, open-for-whatever environment, whether that’s in the store, in the co-working space, or even in events. I’ve always felt at home here.” 

The sense of community pervades through the products sold in the shop, as the vendors are predominantly Durham makers, but even those that hail from other parts of North Carolina, such as the owners of the Charlotte-based metalsmithing business GeoFlora Jewelry, feel the “radical hospitality” of The Mothership. 

“[Being from Charlotte], we can’t be quite as involved, but whenever we do [Durham arts markets], people come up to us and are like, ‘We’ve seen your stuff at The Mothership!’” said Ellen Hinrichs, co-owner of GeoFlora Jewelry. “Every time we come here, we’re always welcomed.” 

Several of The Mothership store’s previous sellers have become established entities in Durham — and beyond. The ZEN Succulent, a terrarium and plant craft business that still maintains shelf space at The Mothership, has brick-and-mortar storefronts in Durham and Raleigh. RUNAWAY Clothes, the company behind the popular DURM brand, sold at The Mothership for several years. 

“As it gets more difficult to survive as an independent artist, we’re trying to maintain that path towards being seen,” Nordgren said. “We feel like us being there is so important because we’re an open door founded on this idea of radical hospitality and we can hold down that space for people who are still trying to do what they love.”

The Mothership makes concerted efforts to build its sense of community. Members of the co-working space are invited to participate in a monthly brunch, a dedicated time to get to know each other and learn about everyone’s individual work journeys. Many of the makers who sell in the shop have invited each other to participate in the same local festivals, such as Zine Machine and The Patchwork Market, and facilitated art trades among one another. 

“I think people are still eager to be part of each other,” McIntyre said. “Hopefully it continues that way. I think it will.”

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