The Art of Community with Tiffany Mcanarney
How did you end up at WELD?
After college, I came to Dallas to live with my aunt. I thought I’d live with her for a couple months and try to find jobs. I knew if I was going to work somewhere, I wanted it to be somewhere fun where I could meet a ton of really cool people. I basically ended up begging The Pearl Cup to hire me, which they did. I worked there day and night and eventually became a shift manager.
One day I was talking to my friend Shaun Menary, who I’d met at the Pearl Cup, and he was like, “Hey, I’ve got a friend who’s a photographer, and he’s starting this artist collective thing. He wants to put a coffee bar in it. I didn’t know if you’d be interested in doing some coffee consulting.” So that’s when I first met Austin Mann. Initially, I was just going to do the coffee ordering for the space. I was very, very particular with what I liked and why I liked it, and there were a lot of things that Austin saw in how I handled ordering that were similar to what he was looking for in someone to run the space.
I knew Austin was looking for someone for a full-time manager position, and I actually sent people over to interview. He would say, “Well they are awesome, but I just wish you were available.” At first, I didn’t want to uproot my life as a freelancer artist and a coffee person, so it wasn’t until a little later on that I caught the vision and just really felt like it was an opportunity that I couldn’t turn down.
In those early days, what was most exciting to you about the vision for WELD?
The vision for WELD was everything I ever wanted to work for in a coffee shop in the fact that we were working to provide people a service that allows them to have really good interactions and experiences. Coffee became a skill to connect people together.
The fact that I could bring something to the table to make other’s lives better and the fact that my life could be changed because of what other people are bringing to the table made it a true community.
I think a mistake a lot of co-working spaces make, is thinking they don’t need a full-time community builder. They’re just like, “Oh, we have this empty building, and we can put tables in it.” But Austin knew it from the beginning and it turned out that having someone there all the time was the secret sauce. You need a person to make those initial introductions and help develop the exchanges that create community.
Has community always been something you cared about, or is that a new thing?
Even if I didn’t always acknowledge that it was important to me, it always was. I remember in high school, I was very involved with my church. In college I was an RA. It was my job 24/7 to foster community. Then being at coffee shops, that was all about helping a person feel like they belonged. I’ve always been like the “puppet master” of community, which is kind of weird. But people crave community so much. I would say 95 percent of the applications that come in are from people who are looking for a community.
Do you have a favorite memory from WELD's beginnings?
There was this one time with this swarm of bees. They had this hive on the side of the building, where the WELD logo is now. Trey Hill wanted to get a really up-close picture with this macro lens on his iPhone. Then Austin tied a broom to a boom stand, and he was trying to, like, shuffle the bees around. I was like, “Who are these guys? They’re grown men.” It’s funny though. It’s those impromptu little creative moments — someone saying, “I have an idea…do you have five minutes to be a model?” Those are the times when we end up learning the most about ourselves — and each other.
How has your job evolved?
At first it was very task-oriented. But it didn’t take long before Austin really saw me as a teammate. I think our dynamic has always been really awesome. He gets really uncomfortable if I call him my boss. So I started calling him Bosstin.
What’s been the most rewarding part about working at WELD?
Watching people grow. Like we have this one member, Hoyoung Lee. When he first came to WELD he was a little unsure of himself. His wife was volunteering with us, and he came in just as a light member. He was an accountant, but his real passion is photography. He wanted to get more into it. After a couple months he was ready to really submerge himself. He was like, “Okay, I’m going to become a full member.” He was in the studio every day for like a month and a half, pulling anybody in and practicing different techniques. You could just see his work evolving. Now he’s shooting stuff for D magazine and he and his wife have their own branding shop. Together they’re doing some really incredible stuff. So yeah, seeing someone come in who was unsure of himself and watching him become what he is today, that is super rewarding.
Do you see a lot of people grow like that at WELD?
Well, we see people on both ends of the spectrum. You have people who come in and they’re not sure of themselves and not sure if they can even afford a membership. Then you have people who are a little more established and it’s no problem for them. But that’s the cool thing about WELD. People with less confidence come in and learn from the people around them. Then the super pros come in and they’re like, “Oh, these people are really amazing.” The playing field ends up getting leveled.
A lot of talent seems to be pooled at WELD. How did that happen?
There is so much talent here. What’s special about being a WELDer is that you’re constantly encouraged to take the plunge, knowing that if you fail, you’ll have the support necessary to try again. There are so many people who are incredibly talented but they’re maintaining normal day jobs, they’re busy with other things. WELD has really become a place where people are able to take a chance on themselves.
Has being at WELD changed you?
I think I’ve developed. I now have a really incredible, established community of friends and collaborators. In the past if I would have met some of these people and I’d only known them from, like, Instagram or something, I probably would have freaked out. Now, I just see them as people. People are always just people.
I think bringing people together is what I’ve been called to do. That’s another thing I’ve learned: That this is something I’m really good at. I thought it was going to be painting, then photography, then drawing. But it turns out I’m just good at connecting people. I feel like this is just the beginning.
Where do you see WELD going from here?
There’s just so much need for it. We get emails all the time from people all over the world asking, “How do you do it?”
We just saw a need in our community and went for it. I think people should just do it, whether that’s just having others in your house or meeting together at a coffeshop.
WELD will continue to grow but the idea is still basically the same: Just being in community together. Some days I get super exhausted or frustrated, but there’s this peace that comes when you know that you’re doing exactly what you’re supposed to be doing, that you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be.