For much of April, What Cheer Writers Club staff and volunteers were busy packing and moving books and furniture from their offices in downtown Providence to their new Valley neighborhood headquarters at 400 Harris Avenue.
A community-based nonprofit, What Cheer Writers Club was founded in 2018 to support local creatives, especially writers, illustrators, and podcasters, through their coworking space, available to members at a discounted price. Since, they have grown a network of more than 400 members and seek to connect the local literary community through tailored programming, workshops, and gatherings.
“The new location is a better fit for us,” says operations director Jillian Winters. “Our neighbors are community partners who we already work with, like Queer.Archive.Work/Binch Press Studio and the Steel Yard, so we’ll have even more opportunities to collaborate.”
According to a member survey, the biggest barrier to participation at their former space was parking downtown. Responding to the call, in fall 2019, the staff and board of directors decided to look for a bigger, more accessible space with plenty of parking. In addition to checking those boxes, program director Jodie Vinson shares, “we love that we found a big open space that we could design to fit the needs of our members as we’ve grown to understand them over the past five years.”
By July 2022, they had signed a lease, were shortly after approved for architectural developments and, finally, construction. The What Cheer team is planning for a soft opening later this month and a grand opening planned for late June. “Our goal has always been to create both quiet spaces where writers can work independently as well as community areas where people can come together and support one another in the creative process,” said Winters.
Like many organizations, the team at What Cheer responded to the COVID-19 crisis by going virtual with many of their programs and services, including writing meetups, coffee hours, and training. “We’ll continue to offer activities in a hybrid model so that people will have the option to join us online or in person,” explains Vinson. “In whatever way they’re comfortable, we want members to connect with us and with one another in meaningful and creative ways.”
The new space will also help increase the organization’s visibility and give work produced by their members more of a platform. “Content arts like writing and illustrating are less visible than others,” says Vinson. “We want to show the community that this process has value and we are literally creating space for it.” An example is their recently published SOLIDARITY zine anthology, a collection of members’ stories, essays, and poems surrounding issues of activism and social change, prioritizing the voices of historically underrepresented identities.
The team hopes to host more events in partnership with their neighbors and other community organizations to expand their reach and deliver more programs and services. “We’ve all been through so much over the past few years and we have experiences to share from various perspectives,” says Winters. “That process can be healing and bring communities together.” WhatCheerClub.org
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