Austin Mann is a travel photographer who has been to over 40 different countries in the last 3 years. During that time he has worked with over 30 different non-profit and faith-based organizations to help them better cast their vision and raise need awareness worldwide. His work has been published by National Geographic, NY Times, Washington Post, ABC, Travel Channel and more.
ILTP interviewed Austin in July 2012.
What is WELD in three words?
Enabling creative collaboration.
How did you first begin to make WELD happen?
In 2011, I was going on new projects or moving to a new place constantly. At the end of the year I met with my dad to think about what 2012 would look like. I knew in 2012 if I wanted to increase my impact on the world and increase what I am doing, I wasn’t going to be able to be as active. I work a lot with nonprofit organizations and aid projects. If I am looking to see how I can better enable those projects more, I wouldn’t be able to carry much more of a production value on my own. I knew I needed to take a step back for a few months and create an environment to enable others to do that, and bring together teams and facilitate a fusion of that creative energy where others would be able to go out and do great things. Then ultimately that would far out reach anything I could ever do on my own.
So at the end of 2011, I saw this space and then my cousin told me on the phone in December that this place was available. I came back to Dallas in February and got the place March 6th and started it. WELD launched on May 11th.
How do you find Dallas the place to make this community happen?
Dallas has the third biggest commercial photography market in the country. From a co-working perspective, people need a space for community and there aren’t a lot of options in Dallas for creative co-working. All of the small, independent, creative business people are working from home or the coffee shop, and there are three or four spaces in Dallas that are on the brink of opening. WELD is filling the missing gap in Dallas.
Dallas is a pretty inherent communal place versus New York where it is very cutthroat. Even a photographer I worked for. I asked him where he got his backdrop and he refused to tell me and I was his intern! He didn’t want anyone to know, and same thing with his lighting diffusion. So I found a scrap of it and sent it to a fabric place and they matched it for me and I got it just because he wouldn’t tell me. I think a collaboration space in New York for photographers wouldn’t work as well, but Dallas is very “Howdy y’all, let’s all do this together,” which I enjoy. Mainly just the cost and strategic choice from perspective of the communal nature of people in Dallas.
What are your biggest goals for WELD within the next 5 years?
I think in five years it would be really plausible for us to have four or five locations around the country. And I would like to see members coming together and building great things in all of the spaces.
If you fill a space with people doing things worthwhile, then I think that two people who are sharing and creating together wouldn’t have the chance to make that happen if there wasn’t a space like WELD.
How many members do you have right now?
A little over twenty, so far. We’re just beginning and we already range from commercial shooters like Trey Hill to hand-drawn illustrators like Kyle Steed to branding & web dev agency Foundry Collective and a ton more creative talents across the board.
What is your favorite thing about/at WELD?
My favorite thing about WELD is sitting out in the main room and overhearing conversations and thinking if WELD didn’t exist that both of those people talking would just be sitting at home, alone in their home office, not even knowing each other. Even if they knew each other they wouldn’t be sitting next to each other. Seeing the connections happen is super fulfilling to me.
I really like to build teams and see people’s strengths and let them zone-in on what they enjoy.
Tiffany McAnarney (Community Manager) came on board because I was looking for someone specifically awesome in coffee because really good coffee is important to creative people and at WELD we are premium service minded.
Everything we provide is a fair price for the best solution. So Tiffany and I got connected and it’s really awesome to see people come in and do what they are awesome at. The whole place was built by the people of our community. I didn’t go out and raise a million dollars and hire people who weren’t passionate about it. I think it’s better when the community builds it.
Favorite thing about being a creative in Texas/Dallas?
As a non-native Texan, I would have to say the general freedom. Our job is to make things up and people hire us for making things up and I love that. Dreaming up and executing ideas are awesome. That is not specific to Texas, but Texas is just as free as anywhere else in the country. In general using the gifts that God gave me is the best part, going out and making something.