Like so many great ventures, the idea for NOLA Tchoup Block was born from necessity.
Kay Champagne works at an architecture firm during the day and is a set-design fabricator at night, often bringing her work home with her to the tiny Uptown home she shares with her husband, Mitch. The two of them met at Louisiana State University, where Kay studied architecture and Mitch, who currently serves in the Louisiana Army National Guard and served a year in Iraq in 2010, studied agricultural business.
“A project would just completely take over our home,” Kay says. “We would have a buzz saw in the kitchen and tools scattered all over the living room!”
The expense of renting a workspace would take a huge chunk of an already small production budget, and, when working from home, much more time is wasted during setup and cleanup. With many friends in the same field, encountering the same problems, Kay and Mitch saw an opportunity.
Together, they created NOLA Tchoup Block, a membership-based collaborative maker space for craftsmen and artisans in New Orleans that would offer a shared workspace, tools and knowledge to help makers fabricate their ideas into reality. With opportunities and resources that would otherwise be cost-prohibitive, NOLA Tchoup Block’s goal is to keep money in the community, and to educate and create jobs.
With the help of an award of significant seed money from New Orleans Entrepreneur Week (NOEW), Kay and Mitch were able to secure a 2,500-square-foot workspace Uptown, off Tchoupitoulas Street, that will provide tools, space and instructions to craftsmen of any skill level in a variety of mediums.
Here, the goal will be to “help to fabricate ideas, while empowering the innovators behind them,” Kay says. NOLA Tchoup Block will feature a wood shop, metal shop and craft lab, with an extensive tool library and project storage areas. In addition to space and tools, members will also benefit from a wide range of skill-building classes taught by local artisans and craftsmen.
“We want this to be beneficial to people of all skill levels,” Mitch says, “bridging the gap between amateur tinkerers and the professional.”
NOLA Tchoup Block is a true passion project for the couple. Mitch, a real estate agent, grew up helping his father, a contractor, on work sites. “He always started us on the hardest job on the site,” Mitch explains, “but the work helped me gain technical skills — and that’s where I really learned the value of a dollar and the value of education.”
Mitch explains that the greater goal behind providing this sort of shared workspace is to keep money and jobs in our community.
“There is a real need for skilled workers,” he says. “Shop and other vocational classes have been mainly removed from today’s high school curriculum, but the jobs that those skills can lead to are in demand, pay well and have a huge impact on our economy. Our training builds both problem-solving and technical skills.”
Through sponsorships, grants and donations, plus revenue streams from the classes and tool library, growth and expansion should be seamless for NOLA Tchoup Block.
“We wanted to start small, but the space we’re in has the potential for an 11,000-square-foot workspace,” Kay says. Eventually, the duo wants to add a textiles area so local fashion designers can also benefit from the collaborative creative effort.
Aware of the value of this type of vocational training, Kay and Mitch also hope to be able to offer shop classes for young students through a portable unit that could travel to local schools.
“We see this growing organically,” Kay adds. “We have our own vision, but it’s up to the community to steer us where the needs and opportunities are.”
At this point, the possibilities for NOLA Tchoup Block seem as endless as the imagination of its members. tchoupblock.com