JVW by John H. Whiteby Jacinta White

There’s something about the energy in Winston-Salem that’s contagious yet underground. Lately it’s been seeping through the cracks in the streets. It’s floating in conversations at local coffee shops and bars. You hear the discussion in small groups among entrepreneurs and artists as well as business professionals who have made their home Winston-Salem. It’s been the topic of banquet keynote addresses and contemplated in local magazines.

But what does this collaboration mean to a city? What’s the big deal about innovation? And, what’s Winston-Salem doing about it? 

I admit, after living in the area (Kernersville, to be exact) for nine years and bringing my creative business with me from Atlanta, I’ve found Winston-Salem to be a hard nut to crack. With most any city it’s about who you know, but in Winston-Salem, there has seemed to be a lack of true collaboration and sense of a genuine welcome across the board.

Then about a month ago, I registered and attended the Flywheel Fling, excited to know that a co-work space was coming to the Wake Forest Innovation Quarter. I went in a little skeptical. Was this a sales pitch that would cost me a lot of money? Would this be a space where I would feel welcomed as an artist? Is this just a new thing to say Winston-Salem is hip and progressive?

Simply put, Flywheel — flywheelcowork.com — is a beautiful space. And the concept is even more inviting even for an introverted artist like myself. It’s website says it’s “our community’s 24/7 co-working space, where people can come together to work on the fly, learn and share knowledge.” Imagine: persons just beginning with an idea connecting with those who have experience and advice, and the space, literally, to bring that idea to life. Imagine coming together for discussions and “mentoring.” Imagine — whether you like an open-office concept or need privacy of a soundproof, closed-door office — feeling you are a part of a creative community.

Brad Bennett, a Flywheel partner, says this co-work space is the intersection of commerce and knowledge, and believes such a space will attract businesses and entrepreneurs to the city. The goal is that business will grow to the point where they need to purchase their own space. Flywheel is there to get them going.

When I visited, a crew was renting an office while filming in the city. There were others at desks and getting snacks, and the energy of the office, along with the colorful décor, was warm. Dr. Eric Tomlinson, president of Wake Forest Innovation Quarter, says the place is the innovative epicenter of Winston-Salem where folks are “imagineering.” Flywheel, a membership accessible space, is a welcomed addition.

Still, the key, I think, will be diversity — in thought, angle and background. It is when diverse perspectives come together that we are able to take what we know and bring it to an entirely different level. Isn’t that the end goal for collaboration and innovation? This is when impact is made, when and where innovations live. We already know what we know. But what is it we don’t know? Are we ready and willing to listen and learn and respond? Isn’t this a part of our responsibility as a community? As artists? As entrepreneurs? As leaders?

We are challenged to expand our comfort zone, to extend whom we are, to allow something new to surface within and outside of us. Being in community: the synergy, the bouncing off of ideas, the open atmosphere of creativity, the shared vision of something better is a part of the path we must walk to get from here to there. My hope is the co-work space will attract those who bring a wide range of experience to the table. Why? Because what is created there filters back into our community. Energy is palpable. Creativity is contagious.

Flywheel is one co-work space in the Winston-Salem area. There are others such as Sixteen Over Six, West End Mill Works and Community Arts Café. And if we truly looked, we might find them at our own kitchen tables. Wherever you go, look for a community that is accepting and challenging, affirmative and honest. We cannot go this alone. We need our tribe. And others who will come afterwards need us to find our space, and create and prosper.

The point is — for artists, entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs and business professionals — there is no need to go it alone. There is a community but we must be a part of it by bringing our energy and ideas and ability to listen to the table. No more, “We don’t have a place.” The space is there. Now, it’s on us to do the rest to connect and create for ourselves and for our community.

As a literary artist and entrepreneur, I believe we still have a ways to go to reach the masses when it comes to being the City of Arts and Innovation, but I continue to be encouraged as I listen and absorb what it means to live and work in community in Winston-Salem.

Jacinta V. White is a poet and facilitator. You can find out more about her and her company at poetryheals.com, or follow her on Twitter: @jacintavwhite

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