A creative headspace
Lauren Cole Norton
Lauren Cole Norton holds an imposing list of creative credentials. In addition to being a poet and musician, the 27-year-old Irish national can add entrepreneur to the mix. First, Norton launched the Davis Flea Market in January 2012. Then, Norton bought an old Audi repair shop on the outskirts of Davis in order to create Third Space, a spot where creatives of all stripes—musicians, artists and vendors—could practice their trades together. Since its soft launch this summer, the multipurpose venue has proved to be a knockout success with live shows, boutique pop-ups and more. SN&R sat down with Norton to talk about creative coaching, artist needs and how her Irish roots fit into these entrepreneurial endeavors.
What does Third Space encompass?
Currently, we have an art collective subleasing about half of the building, and we have a space up front that is used for pop-up shops and can be rented. … We like to think of Third Space as a business incubator. Our website allows us to promote bands and businesses we’re hosting, and we do a lot of coaching with people who come to us about how they can effectively market what they’re doing and connect to their audience or customers.
Third Space came about as a result of the Davis Flea Market, correct?
Right. I had been involved in multipurpose spaces in Dublin before I moved here, and really wanted to see something similar happening in Davis. The flea market was basically a way for me to test-drive the idea of having small vendors working within the same space to cut down costs, and also create a pool of money [from] which we could pay performers.
You brought the idea for the flea market over from Ireland?
After the economy collapsed in 2008, there was a resurgence in interest in car boot sales and rummage sales and flea markets. Really, anywhere there was an empty space, a market would pop up. There’s this great street in Dublin called Moore Street, where we’ve had vendors for a couple hundred years. Suddenly, that was considered cool again rather than going to the mall. To be out on a nice day, talking to people, looking through quirky things, that element of discovery, all became a really fun part of shopping. I was a vendor a few times at the Dublin market before I moved here, and I thought that people would connect with the idea in Davis, where sustainability, cycling, eating locally and going to the farmers market were already so popular.
How has performing as a musician translated into what you do today?
A couple years ago, I started a band called the Souterrain with another Sacramento musician, Sam Shirley. We found [Davis] didn’t have many small venues. There’s Sophia’s [Thai Kitchen], which operates in the summer, but for the rest of the year, you have to find a gig at some event or a house show. Seeing how popular those were, it seemed like a natural next step to give a proper venue in which to operate.
I thought we could create a space that is funded by the business activities during the day, so there isn't so much pressure to be lucrative. We can work with volunteers, students and other musicians to create a space to play similar to a house show, but which is fully advertised and that people know to go there.
Interesting business model—creatives supporting creatives. Has it worked?
It’s been working really well so far. Bands loved coming to play the flea market because we had a guaranteed cash payment for them. We also worked with [UC Davis] Technocultural Studies students to create music videos for the bands, and we’d promote them through our marketing material. So, it wasn’t like they were just coming, playing and getting some money.
Now that we have a venue, and we have so many acts coming through, we're still learning how to juggle that.
Does this success speak to how big the need is for a space for bands and artists?
Right, but also to the need to grow a listening audience, because there are a lot of great things happening in Davis, such as the Davis Live Music Collective, KDRT [95.7 FM, a volunteer-run radio station] and the network of house shows. So, there are all these things happening that just need to happen in cooperation and collaboration with each other.
For instance, during the Davis Live Music Festival this year, they lost one of their venues due to neighbor complaints a couple of days before it began, and all of those bands were moved to Third Space. This was just days after we'd started doing the flea market, and suddenly, we're a venue now for a major music festival.
That must have been great for you.
It was a blessing and a curse. All of a sudden, our name is out there, but we had just gotten the keys! This former Audi repair shop was still covered in grease. It wasn't cute, and we still hadn't figured out the acoustics.
So it’s all still very new.
Yes. We’re planning on having an official opening in January . We have been running shows, we’ve had pop-up shops and the flea market. But it’s still so many weekend projects away from being finished. Every weekend, a bunch of friends show up with rags and paint, and we clean.