The Founders of Spaceus Are Exploring New Ways to Exhibit Art

From Downtown Crossing to Harvard Square, Spaceus cofounders Ellen Shakespear and Stephanie Lee are transforming vacant storefronts into pop-up galleries—and filling the city’s nooks and crannies with unexpected art.

Photo by Pat Piasecki / Hair and makeup by Julie Silva/Anchor Artists

Stephanie Lee: While we were studying architecture at MIT, Ellen and I began to have conversations about local institutions’ lack of support for creativity. As schools and corporations design incredible campuses, there are few incentives to go outside and experience the city. We dreamt of building spaces where people could share ideas and collaborate.

Ellen Shakespear: We started talking to area artists and found people were looking for ways to break out of their silos and do it in places that could accommodate types and scales and flavors of art that weren’t being seen enough.

SL: We also kept encountering empty storefronts. An incubator at MIT called DesignX gave us the startup capital that helped us bring the idea to life about a year and a half ago in Faneuil Hall, then Roslindale, Harvard Square, and East Cambridge. Our spaces are mash-ups: workspaces for artists, exhibition spaces, and places where artists can sell their work.

Shakespear and Lee at a Glance

Both born in: California
Both attended: Princeton and MIT
Formed a friendship: On a bus from New York to Boston
Founded: Spaceus in 2018

ES: Storefronts are neutral spaces and have inviting façades. Someone can just walk into them off the street and unexpectedly encounter art.

SL: In the past we charged artists a reasonable, under-market rate, so it was a win-win for us and them. Recently we’ve been broadening the scope of what we do and exploring new models to better meet the needs of creatives. One thing we’re very interested in is, how do you lower the barriers of entry in a way that enables a vibrant symphony of different types of makers?

SL: You’re seeing academia take steps to break down boundaries. For example, Harvard’s ArtLab is collaborating with Allston, and HUBweek is sponsored in part by MIT. A lot of incredible newcomers are coming to the scene and creating culture. We love being part of this new wave of things happening in Boston, but we’re just adding to the voice that was already there.