Narrator: This podcast is a project of the Mass Cultural Council. We believe in the power of culture – the arts, humanities, and sciences – to enrich communities, advance equity, and foster creativity.
Heather Cook: We really need to think of things that will last, will outlast. Like and what is that? That’s community. That’s culture. That’s creativity. That’s quality of life.
Anita Walker: Hi. I’m Anita Walker at the Mass Cultural Council, and welcome to Creative Minds Out Loud. Our guest today is Heather Cook, and she is the founder of Three Match Creations. Welcome to our program.
Heather Cook: Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Anita Walker: Now, I am going to confess to our listeners, I have no idea what Three Match Creations is. But one of my colleagues said, “We have got to talk to Heather Cook about it.” So tell us about Three Match Creations.
Heather Cook: Three Match Creations is a creative collaborative that we are just running out of an old mill building in Clinton, Massachusetts. And also underneath the creative collaborative, we have a Farmers Makers Market as well. Basically, the concept was to bring community together into a central place, and also bring people together who don’t have the support and structure they need, and they are creative thinkers. They’re out of the box, and it’s very difficult to fit into kind of culture and society. So we have a business manager that manages them. We have an open concept art studio where we can all work together. We teach creative classes to the community, and we also provide a place for people to sell through our Farmers Makers Market as well.
Anita Walker: So you called it a Farmers Makers Market.
Heather Cook: Yes.
Anita Walker: Makers Market, Maker Spaces, but I haven’t heard the “Farmers” put on the beginning of that, so say more.
Heather Cook: Okay. So the farmers element is really that– you know, we used to have in culture and society kind of a natural, sustainable gathering place where people would come together in say like a Farmers Market or a town day or that kind of thing that we all used to come around and gather. And you could hear the stories behind why people brought things to market, what they did, and you could share in that community. So we just decided that we really wanted to support the little guy at Three Match. That’s what we’re all about. And so farmers, local farmers in our area, is just one of those little guys that we just really want to provide a place and to have this really amazing environment. And it is amazing. We have local people who grow like microgreens, and then we have a woman who makes jewelry next to them. And then we have like a food truck and a live musician, and so it’s a very wonderful kind of energetic melting pot, which is basically what the Co-Lab is. We’re a melting pot of different people.
Anita Walker: And sort of at the heart and soul of it is this whole notion of creativity, right?
Heather Cook: I think that, more than anything, Three Match was born out of sterilization, or the recognition of sterilization in society. I come from a very unique background. I was raised off grid in Montana, in the back woods of Montana against the Canadian border. I had no electricity, no telephone. I was unschooled until my first day in college. And a lot of the skills that I learned kind of helped us just cope and survive. And when things were difficult, and there was difficult things in my life, I had all of these resources that I was educated in, not through book learning, but through hands-on experience. I learned how to sew very young. I learned how to knit. An old lady down the road taught me how to knit, and so I developed a relationship through that as well. And I think that what I started realizing after 16 years of working in humanitarian work with teenagers that we’re not giving those resources to kids anymore. We’re not giving them the ability to be creative. We’re not teaching them teaching them skills. We’re not passing down intergenerational relationships anymore. So I just wanted to create this center of connection to resources.
Anita Walker: So you’re in an old mill building.
Heather Cook: Yes.
Anita Walker: What did it take to, you know, take this over and turn it into such an amazing cooperative space?
Heather Cook: Well, actually, it’s not what I want it to be yet. We’re still very much in the development stage. And kind of fighting the beast of the building has been part of the journey, because those old mill buildings aren’t like ADA compliant, and they’re not set up for, you know, masses of people coming through them, but they’re such incredible buildings. And what I’m finding is they have this great potential to be more. So, actually, we haven’t taken over the whole building at this point. We’ve been working with a couple of spaces within the building, but there’s other local businesses in the building as well, so we’re all just kind of working together. But one thing I’ve been battling a lot of is with the town, kind of this mentality of, “Oh, my goodness. This building is a bit of a hazard, and we have people in there,” you know. Like “How are we going to like keep everybody safe,” and they can’t seem to make me go away, so like, “What are we going to do with her?”
Anita Walker: Oh, when code meets creativity.
Heather Cook: Yes. Yes.
Anita Walker: This can be a real– <laughs>
Heather Cook: But I really think part of my mission too is the fact that I’m trying to utilize a building that was forgotten, that is a bygone. And I think a lot of times in these situations, the town would just like to throw something really easy in there. Like right now, we’re kind of dealing with marijuana growers who are coming into Clinton, and they just gut the whole building, and they’ll take it over, and it’s easy for the town. But to me, that isn’t the solution for sustainability for some of these really amazing historical places. Like we really need to think of things that will last, will outlast, and what is that? That’s community. That’s culture. That’s creativity. That’s quality of life, that these centers really should hold. And if we developed these in our towns, it’s a slow economic development, but it would change everything because people will come to places that provide that.
Anita Walker: Can you share any stories of the people that have become part of your Co-Lab and that they’ve told you how they’ve benefited from this co-working space?
Heather Cook: Well, so much of the time, what I hear is, “I just didn’t know that there was anybody else out there like me.” You know, that’s something that I hear a lot, people who have been trying so hard to make a difference in the world with their little gift, with their little talent, with their little resource, and just not having the support system. So, you know, I will find people who are just gifted. Like we have gifted community organizers. We have gifted artists. We have a microbiologist who specializes in herbal medicines, and he’s gifted, and he’s got this 3D printer, and I don’t even know what it does, but he comes in. He’ll like make custom supplements for a combination of Eastern and Western healing, and just people who are gifted, but who have been forgotten, or have been lost in the shuffle of trying to compete with these big industries. And that’s what I find most often is just people like, “I didn’t know there was anybody else out there like me who needed support.” So bringing them together, and then watching kind of the great synergy that takes place between like an artist and a microbiologist and a podcaster and, you know, whatever else is in the Co-Lab at the time has been really fun. But a specific story– there’s so many, it’s hard to kind of pinpoint one. But, generally, it’s just these really remarkable people who are silent before they’re given a platform in which to showcase what they have to offer that really makes the world better.
Anita Walker: And you talk a little bit about discovering people who wouldn’t have found each other, or were looking for a place. I always ask the question, “How do you know who you don’t know?” So is this a case of, “If you build it, they will come”? You’ve sort of opened up the mill building, and let it be known that it was available, and people found you, or did you have a strategy to go out and find these creative entrepreneurs who were looking for some sort of a cooperative space?
Heather Cook: That’s a great question. The Co-Lab concept was born out of my great need of– I’d been complaining about how society is going downhill. And I always tell kids that I work with, “Don’t complain about something until you have the solution.” So it was really just an organic experiment in saying, “Well, maybe if I build this, people will come.” But I’ll tell you what. It’s like I hit a nerve, and it’s exploded in a way like I can’t even quite comprehend. It’s like we’re already moving forward into growth and development, into like owning our own building, or, you know, maybe the one we’re in. But, you know, it’s like people are hungry for it, and they were looking for it. And then when it just came to be, everybody was onboard. And I’ve had so much feedback, and so much support from day one. It’s just been incredible. And it just really goes to show you that all it takes is a little bit of vision, and all it takes is just a little bit of like risk and making a place. And together we’re stronger. It’s not just me. Like there are so many people who have stepped up to support and to be a part of it. And so it’s just together we can do a lot, and it just takes a couple of people to say, “Well, let’s try it, and if it fails, it fails, but let’s try it,” you know. So it’s been really fun in that regard.
Anita Walker: So when did you officially open the mill building, or how long has it been open?
Heather Cook: Right. So we started a year ago in May was our official opening date, and then to the market, we opened that in October, a year ago.
Anita Walker: So just a little over a year you’ve been at this.
Heather Cook: Yeah.
Anita Walker: And how many people are now using the Co-Lab?
Heather Cook: We have about 12 people inside the Co-Lab right now. So we have different ways you can become a Co-Lab – involved in the Co-Lab. We have a resident program, in which you need the desk space. So you can come in and there’s desks in this beautiful aesthetically pleasing studio up on the third floor in this old mill building, and a big workshop area where you can teach your workshops if you’re an artist or have some skill to share. And then you can also be a transient, which means you come in for a short time, like you’re working on a project. So a student who maybe has like a summer thing where they have to put on an art gallery for their program, so they’ll come through. And then we have the independents, who are people who don’t need desk space. They might have an office at home, but they need a business manager. They need the shared marketing. They need a place to teach, and they want the community, and so those are the three options that we have for the Co-Lab and how we support members. But then, of course, the other aspect is what we provide for the community as well.
Anita Walker: So what are the big challenges ahead of you as you start to nurture and develop this program?
Heather Cook: I think that some of the big challenges revolve around just space issues. Obviously, the building is a bit of a struggle. I love it. I’m in love with the building, and I want it to work, but, you know, developing out, either an upgrade of the building, or our own property that’s maybe more accessible, that kind of thing. That is a big challenge right now. Also I think generally just fighting the politics of say the town, or trying to get help, and where do we go for these answers from the town and the small town politics has been a little bit of a struggle too. So that’s something that I’m constantly dealing with. But every time I get really discouraged, it’s like there’s a breakthrough and somebody comes along. It’s all about the relationships and the connections. And it’s about who you know, and people jumping onboard to kind of help you when you’re kind of getting knocked down. So that’s been just really encouraging. I know it’s going to be fine. I know it’s going to be fine. We’re going to be fine. We’re just working at moving forward.
Anita Walker: Well, you talked about, you know, it starts with a vision, but it also takes persistence and a never give up attitude, which it sounds like you’re at that stage of we’re not going to give up on this because we know the benefits.
Heather Cook: Never. Never will we give up. And also, that’s very much my concept of survival as well, you know. Coming from my background, you don’t ever give up. When you give up, you’re dead, so you have to keep going. And so I think it gives me a lot of tenacity to kind of come from a background where against all odds, you’re going to survive. And I really think that’s a lot. Creativity and culture has a lot to do with survival, has a lot to do with mental health. It has a lot to do with having the desire to keep going, so it’s really important work. And I think so much of the time, people are like, “Oh, it’s just fluffy” or, “It’s just, you know, it’s something out there. It’s this ambiguous idea,” but it’s actually critical to the human race, I believe, to have these things that help us keep going, that gives us purpose and gives us joy, and gives us quality of life and a desire to express and create. Like those are essential to human survival, I believe. So even though I come from a very practical survival background, I still have a lot of those elements in how I think as well.
Anita Walker: Heather Cook, founder of Three Match Creations, another one of our Creative Minds Out Loud.
Narrator: To learn more about this episode and to subscribe, visit creativemindsoutloud.org.