Goodman Community Center | Empty space on Willy Street filled with…

Empty space on Willy Street filled with Aubergine

Willy Street Co-op's new space across the street is for the community.

June 27, 2024 |
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Residents check out what Aubergine offers.
Willy Street Co-op's new building, Aubergine, is a multiuse community space.

By Alesia Mayfield, Eastside News

When Anya Firszt, Willy Street Co-op general manager, was approached about the empty space at 1226 Williamson St. — directly across from the co-op’s east side grocery store — Café CODA encouraged store staff to acquire the building. Acquisition and remodeling occurred in 2023 for the place to become Aubergine, Willy Street Co-op’s new community space.

A grand opening of Aubergine, which means eggplant and/or the color purple, was held March 8. An estimated 250 people attended.

Kristina Kuhaupt, customer experience manager, said the space is a win-win for the community and for Willy East. Kuhaupt and her team manage the space, rentals and classes. The space can hold up to 99 people.

“Aubergine presents this opportunity to create a really lively community space to feature art, to hold events and classes, and to really center and celebrate and showcase what is in the community,” Sarah Larson, Willy Street Co-op board president, told WKOW-TV.

The co-op had a small community room where cooking classes were held but it was closed during the COVID-19 pandemic. With the room closed, Willy East received comments about creating a new community space. It listened to the feedback, and Aubergine was set into motion. The old community room is now a storeroom.

Aubergine has more than cooking classes. It provides an affordable space that offers hands-on learning experiences, provides a space for the community to gather and as a gallery, elevates local artists.

“(There has been a) great, positive response (from the community), Kuhaupt said.

Nonprofits can use the space to host workshops and meetings. Google Meet is used to host hybrid meetings. Mourning Dove teaches Self Love Yoga that welcomes all body types and focuses on a holistic approach to health and wellness. The commercial kitchen hosts adult and children’s cooking classes. The kitchen also provides small food businesses with an incubator to start their food business. Kuhaupt champions the success of small businesses becoming a reality and wants Aubergine to be a place where small businesses can be directed to proper resources. Aubergine partners with local artists to give them a dedicated spot to exhibit their work and was a part of the annual Madison Museum of Contemporary Art’s May 3 Gallery Night.

Madison resident Jessica M. Gutiérrez, a self-taught Nicaraguan American watercolor and mixed media artist, had her artwork displayed and a reception there during Gallery Night.

Moving forward, Kuhaupt wants to maximize as many rentals as possible and expand classes.

For more information, email Amanda Ikens at a.ikens@willystreet.coop or visit the co-op’s website. Artists interested in displaying artwork can email customer.experience@willystreet.coop.

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