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Story #29Fort HoustonNashville, TN

Just be flexible, be adaptable. Don’t hold onto one idea of what you think this is gonna be or what it should be, because it’s gonna change.

As the promise of employment after graduation disappears, young graduates have been forced to create their own opportunities. After graduation, four young friends all returned to Nashville with the same question– how do we recreate the creative and supportive environment that college provided?

“We were missing this access to all of this equipment, access to space, and a supportive community to do our creative endeavors in,” says founder Zach Duensing. “You need that, especially starting out.”

Rather than returning to incubators in larger cities, the four partners wanted to bring that community structure to Nashville, TN. They developed Fort Houston, a 10,000 square foot studio space in the Wedgewood-Houston neighborhood equipped with woodworking tools, a metal shop, a motorcycle shop, and screen printing equipment. Following the same model as a gym, members pay a monthly fee for access. In only three years, they have developed a strong community of 80-100 creatives.

The work emerging from Fort Houston is making waves among the Nashville community. Visitors come in daily to see art on display or to request custom work from members. “People know that we have talented people in here who can make things. So they come to us with ideas about some random custom thing, and somebody in here can not only do it, but do it well,” says partner Zach Duensing.

Members run the gamut, from occasional hobbyists to full time professionals who run their businesses out of Fort Houston. A few have even gone on to form their own sustainable free-standing businesses. Everybody wins.

The reality of Fort Houston has far exceeded initial expectations. In addition to providing equipment, creative cross pollination, networking, support, and community have unexpectedly sprung up. The partners at Fort Houston are embracing this change and hope to continue to facilitate human potential and eventually be comparable to a large art or craft school.

Photos by Ed Kashi

  • Nearly half of the members at Fort Houston focus on metal work and motorcycles. Two years ago when they moved to their current space, the partners merged with Zombie Shop-- a motorcycle co-op and venue.

  • Jewelry artisan Lindsay Houston Walker working at Fort Houston. The partners hope to expand their jewelry equipment in the future.

  • Three of the four original founders are still active in running Fort Houston: Ryan Schemmel, Joshua Cooper, and Zach Duensing.

  • Silk screens at Fort Houston. One of the more successful partnerships at Fort Houston is Grand Palace, a silk screen company that operates full-time from the space.

  • Woodworking artist Jeff Estes at Fort Houston.

  • The community at Fort Houston is very close-knit. "All these people who work here now are our good friends at this point," says partner Zach Duensing. "They really have become an extension of friends and family."

  • Although the average member at Fort Houston is in their early thirties, member ages extend from 18-70.

  • The community is very self-supporting, with members often trading skills. "A great reason to be here is because if I don't know how to make something, someone here does, and I can either learn from them or just outsource it to them for a client," says partner Zach Duensing.

  • Fort Houston's tagline is: facilitators of human potential. They function as an "interim bounce board stage for people who need an accessible space, need to really refine their skills and get themselves off the ground professionally."

  • Membership fluctuates between 80-100 people. Member skills range from hobbyist to professional.

  • The 10,000 square foot studio space at Fort Houston is equipped with woodworking tools, a metal shop, a motorcycle shop, screen printing equipment, and a darkroom.

Business Details

Proprietor: Zach Duensing, Josh Cooper, Brent Jackson, Ryan Schemmel
500 Houston Street Nashville, TN 37203
PH: 615-730-8865 / Website
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