Community centered – Isthmus | Madison, Wisconsin

The Social Justice Center is getting a major makeover.

What was once a worn-out and cramped storefront at 1202 Williamson St. is being remodeled into expanded offices and a “mutual aid workspace” that organizers hope will attract new users and groups to the center.

“The goal is to reopen the building to the public so it can become more of a source of life in the neighborhood,” says SJC board president Stephanie Rearick.

The renovation includes new offices for the Tenant Resource Center, which needs more room for its growing staff, and new suites for the Dane County TimeBank and Madison Community Cooperative.

The rest of the first floor will become the mutual aid workspace, “a very deliberate space for collaboration [by] organizations and individuals to have much lower overhead to do their work,” explains Rearick. It will include a couple of small, nearly-sound proof alcoves for private meetings or phone calls as well as a small meeting room, a large conference room, a couple of public-use computers, a kitchen area, and an open area with desks.

This space will be managed by the Mutual Aid Network, a partnership of sites around the world that facilitates resource sharing. Membership to use the coworking space will range from $50 a month for individuals to $500 a month for organizations.

Rearick envisions both self-employed people and community groups, nonprofits and start-ups using the space: “People can now have an affordable coworking space that’s explicitly geared toward connecting with the other people in the building and connecting with the community.”

To pay for the renovations, SJC took out a loan of $250,000 from Wisconsin Bank & Trust and hopes to raise another $50,000 from donations. Many people from the community are volunteering time to help with the renovation, which has livened up the space.

Dark gray carpet has been replaced and the walls painted in varying shades of blue. The tall ceiling is accented with round sections of dropped lighting that resemble clouds. There’s also wall space now where the 608 Arts collective can hang members’ work.

The Social Justice Center opened in 2000 as a shared space and incubator for nonprofits. It took over the building from the Willy Street Co-Op, which had moved across the street.

Rearick hopes the space will spark other cooperative ventures, such as a library where people could rent or borrow power tools or catering equipment.

She also has bigger dreams for years down the road. She envisions solar panels or gardens on the roof and a mesh wireless network. “Perhaps the building will have grown a couple stories and we’ll have affordable housing,” she adds.

But for now, Rearick is focused on finishing the construction before the grand opening event on Jan. 20, noon to 6 p.m.

“This is a chance to really engage all the people that we already work with in the neighborhood and really show what we can do under one roof,” says Rearick. 

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