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Stephanie is co-founder of Spaceus, which transforms vacant storefronts into incubators for creativity and places for community to come together. Prior to co-founding Spaceus, she worked alongside artists to bring large-scale installations and experiences to life. She received her Master of Architecture from MIT and her A.B. in architecture from Princeton University.
Zoe Dobuler: What is your background, and how did you find your way to Spaceus?
Stephanie Lee: Ellen and I met on a bus that was going from Penn Station in New York City to Alewife in Cambridge. We were both relocating to Cambridge to pursue our graduate degrees in architecture. A mutual friend introduced us, and we sat together in the back of the bus. Our friendship grew from that moment. We sat near each other in studios and worked on projects together — most notably, we designed a rocket and wrote a book on concrete.
We found our way to Spaceus organically — through conversations that we had about our experiences walking to and from school. Increasingly we saw that stores were closing, and they would remain closed for months. We saw so much opportunity and potential in these spaces to act as connective tissue for the community. After two years of seeing for lease signs, we decided to do something about it.
ZD: What problem is Spaceus trying to solve, and how does it go about it?
SL: As graduate students in MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning, we were always looking for ways to break out of our institutional silo and connect with our neighbors and with other local creatives.
Spaceus was born out of this personal desire to find a new way to connect and collaborate, and we quickly learned many other creatives feel the same way. Every day we are driven by a deep, personal passion for making space for creative collaboration in the heart of the city.
Beyond that, we’re also trying to solve the problem of vacant retail space. We find that so many people are very frustrated by endless for lease signs — and we are excited to transform these underutilized spaces into assets for the community.
ZD: You and your co-founder were architecture students when you created Spaceus, but it seems like you’ve had to become entrepreneurs. What was that transition like? Any major takeaways or learnings?
SL: The transition from architecture student to entrepreneur was relatively smooth. We were given a tremendous amount of support from MIT, which has a robust ecosystem that supports people with ideas and connects folks to mentors who will help them achieve that large dream.
As architecture students, we were taught to dream big — to solve large-scale problems and see how one building, or one plan, could transform the city. As entrepreneurs, we have learned to implement those ideas — little by little.
ZD: Is there anything you find particularly unique about the arts ecosystem in Boston?
SL: Boston’s arts ecosystem is incredibly dynamic, changing, and eclectic — it feels like we’re in a moment where more and more creatives are trying to create a space that celebrates local creativity. We’re excited to be part of this movement.
ZD: What’s in store for the future of Spaceus?
SL: We’re currently working on an exciting project, in which we’re activating vacant storefronts throughout the Boston area, transforming them into incubators for innovative artists, entrepreneurs, and more!
Long term, we’re looking at how we can give people the tools to activate vacant and underutilized space, because we’d love to see what we’re doing translate to even more spaces and places. We want to live in a world that’s able to see potential for creativity to blossom in unlikely places, and a place that celebrates diverse voices and communities. So hopefully the future of Spaceus and our vision for the future converge!
ZD: How can the HubWeek community contribute to Spaceus and its wider mission?
SL: The HubWeek community can contribute to Spaceus by being active in our community! We’d love to see you all in our spaces, hear what you think might improve the neighborhood, and learn what you think would really contribute to your experience of the city.
In addition, we’re always trying to think about how Spaceus can be even more inclusive and to create platforms for folks who are doing incredible things. Often times we operate through word-of-mouth referrals and active social media-based research, but we realize that this limits the scope of our activities. If you know anyone building something incredible, we’d love an introduction!
Finally, if there’s anyone in the community who might have vacant retail space, we’d love to meet you and share how we can work together to transform your empty space into a place for people to come together!
This Change Maker interview was originally published August 2019 on the HubWeek blog.
The HubWeek Change Maker series showcases the most innovative minds in art, science, and technology making an impact in Boston and around the world. Know a change maker you think should be interviewed for this series? Nominate them here.