Studio on the CommonGail Ockerbloom Freeman opened Studio on the Common, a community space dedicated to creativity, connection, and art in October 2015. Part creative space and part gift shop, Studio on the Common has since been a community buzz spot for its highly appreciated art programs for children and adults; its hosting of community gatherings, private events, and business team off-sites; and for its very selective gift items.

Interview with Gail Ockerbloom Freeman

Tell me a little about yourself and how you started Studio on the Common.

I’m from Winchester, I grew up here, I went to Winchester schools all my life and I actually have worked in high-tech and not-for-profits in the healthcare field since I graduated from Boston College. But I also was a camper and had a grandfather who ran a camp and I’ve also always loved to be around art and creativity. In my work, I was responsible for strategy and business planning and marketing, all of which drew upon creativity and innovation to help differentiate a business or develop a strategy that would actually work. I have always wanted to open something in Winchester that would be a place of creativity and could combine some of what I did as a camper with some of what I did as a business woman and some of what I did as a leader in a not-for-profit organization trying to change healthcare around the world. And this is where I ended up! I’m also pretty convinced that it’s communities that really change things and so I feel very privileged to be in the midst of the community trying to figure out a business!

When you started building your business, what were some of your biggest challenges?

I think having the courage to take the leap to a world that I didn’t know a lot about. The Studio is a gift shop and an art studio and I’m neither an artist nor someone who’s ever run a gift shop before. I think one is being able to take that leap and knowing if you’re working for the right things, the rest will fall into place. From the very beginning I wanted to co-create something, I didn’t want to say “This is it! It’s there, it’s done, now you either like it or you don’t like it.” I really thought I’d like to co-create something and that’s a challenge because people are very busy but actually, people really lean into that challenge, I’ve found, and it’s been great.

What have been some of your biggest highlights so far?

Similar to what the Multicultural Network does each year, encouraging art work (and essays) in our schools around MLK Jr Day, and displaying them at a Network and FAN-sponsored celebration—we had 22 kids in here on Martin Luther King Day, all creating art. That was certainly a highlight! Having people come into the store over and over and say “ah, I would love to get that!” and “oh, I’m so happy to find something special!,” that’s a thrill on the store side. Having groups come and with the challenges they have – like with the special education—one thrill was to have the Win PAC come in, kids and parents, and see the parents get to know each other for the first time, and have a room full of kids of a variety of ages all really having a great time together. People come in and say “thank you” a lot! “Thank you for opening something different,” and that’s a thrill.

What do you think has been Studio on the Common’s biggest contribution to Winchester?

I think it’s something that’s being built by a lot of people in Winchester. I think it’s that idea that we’re co-creating something. It’s really important to us that we hold it kind of loosely and to the extent that we have to have business models that work, but it seems to be a win-win. I learned a lot about that in not-for-profit work – that’s where I learned that the communities are the keys to things and that’s where I learned that you’re not going to come in and tell everybody what you’re going to do. If you want to be successful, you have to really open yourself up.

What do you want the legacy of your business to be in Winchester?

I’ve often said that I would love it if 20 years from now, someone were to walk by this corner and say “Oh my gosh, I had so much fun there when I was little, I went to some camp…” and that they remember something about it and that they felt welcome and that they did something fun and special. I would like to have a business that adds to the community, that brings something different, and is accessible and affordable. I’ve already had it to some extent—I’ve had little kids come in here and they’re so proud of something I hung in the windows, like those tessellations that the little kids at Lincoln School did. I can take a kid and say “your stuff’s going to be in the window” and they can come and show their grandmother. Its little things like that but they make a big difference to kids. It makes them feel creative.

Do you think being a woman has impacted how people view you as a businessperson?

I think the positive thing is as a woman, a businesswoman, you will find great support – ending up with a lot of people in your corner – if you have something good to offer. And I wish you could say that about every minority, I think it’s a different story for other kinds of minorities than it is for me.

Who is one woman who has inspired you?

One woman is Diana Chapman Walsh – she was the president of Wellesley University. I remember hearing her talk about this whole idea of servant leadership and that it’s not about people serving you when you’re in a leadership position, it’s about understanding how to serve people as the leader. I really like that in a job that could have been really intimidating and that trains a lot of amazing women, that that was her attitude. It wasn’t a swagger, it was “what do I have to do?”

Any advice to other female entrepreneurs?

Be practical and pragmatic and be grounded, but then be expansive and creative in thinking about what could you change or what could you add, or what could you transform. It’s got to be grounded in something that makes sense, but don’t be sensible all the time because you know, it’s not what we need right now, I don’t think. I think we need new ideas! I’d add the “be collaborative” part, as well. Be brave and everything too, in moderation!