The Wacom Experience Center Portland was founded for the purpose of creating a space where people could interact with the local creative community. The Center was built based on our passion for "creating a place where everyone is welcome to express their creativity". It has been attracting a wide range of people, from up-and-coming artists to internationally active creators, all with “creativity” as their focus.
What does the Experience Center mean to Portland's creative community and Wacom? We will introduce the path it has taken in a talk with Megan Davis, who has been playing an energetic role in this space since its launch in 2016.
Could you tell us about the Wacom Experience Center in Portland?
Megan:The Wacom Experience Center in Portland (referred to as the Experience Center) is a space for the creative community in Portland, USA to create connections. We host a variety of events, workshops, and lectures in a space that can accommodate about 100 people.
The Experience Center opened in 2016 as a space to engage with customers and creatives in the local community. Our mission is to foster creativity and innovative ideas, while inspiring those around us.
The Experience Center has grown organically since its inception in 2016. How have you expanded the scope?
Megan: I started by sharing the vision and concept with people close to me. Drawing on my previous experience of working at an art school and being part of the local creative community as a creator myself, I first reached out to friends, acquaintances, and students involved in animation, design, comics, and game development. They were also Wacom users, so it didn't take long for them to understand the potential the Experience Center could offer. It was a process of trial and error, but as the community gradually became familiar with our name and mission, we were able to expand and reach even deeper into the creative and tech communities.
The quality of speakers and presenters were also a key factor in its success. We invited a lot of talented people, including a world-renowned film producer as well as a footwear designer. As people have become increasingly aware of the potential the Experience Center has to offer, more people have started participating and coming to our space.
We've had some very tangible success on the road to supporting and fostering our community. One of them being that we've been able to support other creative outlets such as a local theater as well as startups in and around Portland over the last few years. I believe that through our continued efforts, we are creating a meaningful and credible reputation as one of the leading supporters in the creative and tech communities.
It takes a lot of energy to start a project from scratch. How did you reach this point?
Megan: We wanted to create a space where all kinds of people are welcome. It's a showroom, it's a creative workspace, and it's a place where we support people to make what they believe in. Portland's creative community is open to all kinds of people, and there is a spirit of mentorship that supports the growth of young creators. We thought that if there was a space here that could serve as a beacon, it would bring people together in an organic way.
Wacom is a digital technology company, but we also welcome people who want to create using any medium they want. The Experience Center is a space for all kinds of people, so we support every type of creation with whatever tools we have available. We can introduce Wacom products as new tools, but that is not always our main focus. Our goal is to make sure that we are supporting our creatives in a way that is authentic to their craft, medium, and process. This requires a unique understanding of the overall creative process, which I feel myself and my team are always able to do.
Would you say that Portland is a town that means a lot to the creative community?
Megan: Portland is a small, big town if that makes sense. There are so many industries that foster and require creativity. I think it's easier for creatives to feel like they can carve out a piece of wherever they are if a place has that small-town vibe. The feeling of a big city can often be overwhelming. People may not believe it but it’s a very hard life being creative. We're all very anxious and sensitive. I think it's important to be able to feel you have a piece of this town that you can call your own and feel comfortable in. But it's not huge enough that it's overwhelming.
There are many initiatives that the Experience Center has put into motion. What ones stand out as particularly memorable in your opinion?
Megan: One is Sneaker Week, which we launched in 2016 with a local footwear design school called PENSOLE ACADEMY. Sneaker Week is a festival designed to connect Portland's sneaker community with the footwear industry. Each year, we host lectures and design workshops with footwear designers and leaders in the industry to engage the creative community and those interested in technology and innovation.
Aspiring footwear designers typically study industrial design, which is not necessarily industry-specific. Pensole was starting to fill that gap by focusing on footwear industry-specific education. As a big sneakerhead, I immediately hit it off with Pensole's marketing manager and came up with the idea for Sneaker Week. Portland is home to many well-known footwear brands. It's also a city that loves to be unique, and with so many cool festivals like Pizza Week, Donut Week, and Burger Week, there was no reason not to celebrate Sneaker Week. What started as a small, invite-only event, is now one of the largest festivals in Portland.
Another one is a comic convention in Portland called "Rose City Comic Con". As an Experience Center, we have been participating in this event for the past eight years, supporting up-and-coming artists by setting up a stage in an area called Artist Alley. Generally, Artist Alley is where independent artists sell their work and where well-known artists give demos and talks. Up-and-coming artists use the area outside of this space, but it can be difficult to get attention here. Often no one showed up even though the artists and facilitators organized this extra area. So we set up a stage in the middle of Artist Alley where small local artists could talk about their work and give demos too. It has the added benefit of keeping people on the exhibitor floor, which in turn gives the artists more support because the longer people stay, the more they are likely to buy some art.
Why is community important to Wacom and to the Experience Center?
Megan: I think the phrase "Think global, act local" sums up the significance of what community stands for. Now that anyone can communicate from anywhere there is so much we can do – the possibilities are basically endless. It's difficult to make a global impact if you or your local community don’t feel supported or have safe spaces to create and innovate. At the Experience Center, we have both online and in-person events, and we aim to strike a balance between the two. While our online events in particular provide opportunities to interact with many people beyond the Portland area, the heart of what we do is to support Portland's creative community. We are working to make sure that creators here in Portland feel that there is a place where they can talk about their work and feel supported. This gives them a base from which they can go out beyond the boundaries of Portland and share their experiences, skills and insights with the greater global community.
The world would be a very sad place without creators. Creativity is important to our daily lives, and if we could hypothetically tell one person, "That's a great piece of work," we might be able to encourage them to keep going. We want to deepen our connection with the local community and continue to be an inspiration to people everywhere around the globe to keep creating.
At the Experience Center, events and community interaction is happening on a daily basis. What do you think is the driving force behind what you do, despite the challenges of preparing and managing the space?
Megan: It’s insane (laughs)! I have a wonderful team that I work with. They are the reason we can do all the things I've talked about.
And most of all, I love watching the people that come to the Experience Center and witnessing the synergy that happens there. It's inspiring and moving to watch someone use the tools, resources, and access we offer to create something. The other day, we had a Game Jam event that brought nearly 50 people together. It was an event where people teamed up for the first time to create a video game within two weeks with people they had never met before. This super unique group of people was like “Hey, I like your shirt. Do you want to make a video game together?” and they would say, “That sounds great.” And that’s how they started making video games. I think the most attractive thing about working at Wacom is being able to encounter moments like that and being part of this kind of creative community.
In 2021, we opened our second Experience Center in Düsseldorf, Germany. I believe that we’re able to duplicate the concept in Dusseldorf thanks to the success we’ve already had in Portland. My true goal is to continue to broaden our reach and have more Wacom Experience Centers all over the world.