The Soapbox

The Soapbox is a community print shop, book and zine making center, and library of over 2,000 rare handmade publications. One of only a few spaces in the country that combines zine, book arts, and poetry chapbook worlds in one location. Since 2011, we have been offering affordable workshops, equipment access, art exhibits, readings, a reading room, and edible printing events out of a small rowhouse in West Philadelphia. With our Creative Incubator Grant, along with crowdfunding, we are expanding into a 4,500 sf space with added equipment, increased hours, and private artist studios.

Lessons Learned

  1. Things take ten times as long as you think they will. Add a couple of times for every additional person or agency that’s in the mix. Persistence, patience, and flexibility will get you where you need to go. The path will probably look different than the one you originally mapped out.

  2. Get help. As co-founder of a DIY-oriented space with a shoe-string budget, I used to work to figure out every piece of the puzzle on my own. It became clear that if we were going to take a bigger risk and grow, it would be more effective to seek expert input and advice from time-to-time. Philly is full of great resources for non-profits and creative start-ups. It is possible to get amazing help without spending very much. Taking advantage of the Corzo Center and Business Volunteers for the Arts has been invaluable for us.

  3. Get more help. Some people will be excited to get involved with a community space. Nurture relationships with those who want to help. Recognize their strengths. Give them roles that play to their strengths. Let go a little. It can be better to have more people involved and doing work than have every piece of that work done the way you would do it. Recognize that you won’t be able to take advantage of all help that is offered. Sometimes too many competing voices become more hindrance than help. It is okay to let go of some help.

  4. Get even more help. “Say yes.” Over time, The Soapbox has worked to establish collaborations with other organizations. Even though we are a place-based organization, we did not hesitate to take our show on the road. This serves as outreach and additional income streams. It kept us active when we found ourselves in between spaces. We had existing relationships to foster and a habit of establishing new ones. Thus and at times when we were working hard, but felt like we weren’t making any progress on our new space, if we took a step back then we could still point to a lot of program-based accomplishments.

  5. Always look backwards before you look forward. We work to have a board retreat every summer. I always start the process by looking back on accomplishments in the past year and how these lined up with the goals we laid out at the previous retreat. It’s important to buoy the spirit and remind oneself what one is capable of by taking the time to appreciate how far one has come. I find it easy to see how much there still is to be done. When I think about how much The Soapbox has developed and matured as an organization over our grant period, I am humbled and impressed. This gives me both grace and confidence to move ahead and take the next steps.

Next Steps

The Soapbox has laid the groundwork for opening our expanded studio space at 4700 Kingsessing while continuing programming. Our next work will be proof-of-concept.

  • Carry out the business plan, budget,  marketing plan, and lay out for our new space.

  • Launch a PR and social media campaign to gain memberships and publicize our opening event.

  • Secure reliable Work Exchange Members who will help run the space in exchange for keyholder membership.

  • Incorporate paid staffing into our business plan. We have currently planned to add a part-time staff position in Year 3; however, we have realized that the sooner we can do this, the better.

  • Revenue development will be key to our growth and success.

  • Incorporate a clear donor relations program. Recognize that our community-based income comes from two separate communities 1) customers who want the service or product we offer and 2) donors who wish to support our mission. Catering separate communications plans to these groups will be important to maintaining and developing both revenue streams.