Workbar Comes to Union Square

workbarCrystal Rene Burney's Somerville-themed mural for Workbar Union. Photos by Kerri Desmond.

Looking to get out of the house, onto a computer and into some serious work? Thanks to Union Square Station Associates (US2), the Boston-based collaborative coworking space Workbar is now open at 31 Union Sq., giving Somerville’s startup and small business community the opportunity to do just that.

US2 was one of 10 national firms competing for the Union Square redevelopment project when President Greg Karczewski and his staff were introduced to Workbar Founder and CEO Bill Jacobson in February of last year. According to Karczewski, it was immediately evident that the two organizations would be a good fit moving forward. “One of the main goals for the redevelopment of the square is to really evolve Union into a more robust job center,” he says, adding that coworking spaces can be a catalyst for job creation. “We thought … that we could sort of plant the seeds of entrepreneurship and business that could grow into the square over time.”

Workbar, for the unfamiliar, provides resources for startups, small businesses and independent entrepreneurs. “We really try to fuse together business and social,” says Jacobson, adding that within the Workbar network there are recreational groups including a running club and a drama club. On the work side of things, he says that members can learn new abilities through the organization’s skills-based programs, where members often instruct other members. And it isn’t all formal; Jacobson explains that while some skill-sharing meetups are scheduled workshops, many such collaborations and learning experiences simply take place over lunch. “You can just come in here and jam at the thing you’re doing!” he says.

Workbar also hosts community events, and Jacobson and Karczewski agree that they want the Union Square space to be available to the broadest possible range of people in the area—regardless of what they’re working on, how much they can pay and the type of access they need. As part of that commitment to accessibility, Workbar Union offered four free days of access to locals last week, and Jacobson and Karczewski have been regularly checking in with Union Square’s businesses to see what their goals and interests are. He hopes that these conversations with people in the neighborhood will eventually inform the types of programming and events that Workbar hosts in the space.

“[US2] really wanted this to be a community-driven approach, and that’s a big part of what Workbar is,” Jacobson adds. “We were very aligned on that being the focus that we wanted to bring to Union Square.”

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Burney, hard at work on her mural.

That commitment to supporting local movers and shakers even carries through to Workbar Union’s decor; the space is filled with desks and tables made by area builders, and the pièce de résistance is a 26-foot, Union Square-inspired mural painted by Somerville’s own Crystal Burney. Burney says she wanted the painting to combine many of the things she thinks of as being “quintessentially Somerville,” and the resulting work is features everything from dogs to bikes to donuts to coffee—and even the Prospect Hill Monument. (And, of course, there’s also a jar of fluff.)

“To me, Union Square is in the works—it’s still in its rough sketch,” Burney says of the inspiration for her mural. Like anyone who spends time in Union, she’s familiar with the area’s empty storefronts, new businesses and the ongoing construction as the site gears up for the Green Line Extension. So she decided to make her mural look like a notebook doodle, as though she were sitting in Bloc 11, taking in and sketching out the shifting scene around her.

“[The square] is not a finished product, and I wanted this to represent how when you’re sitting there, jotting down ideas in a notebook, it’s almost alive because of all of these little puzzle pieces that fit together,” Burney says. “Union is so crammed with so much—it’s like a little puzzle in and of itself.”

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