If you’ve ever driven down Farmington Avenue in Hartford and passed a huge building painted like a giant beehive, then you’ve only partially experienced the allure of The 224 EcoSpace.
In November 2021, the building’s façade was painted by local artist Tao LaBossiere to reflect the community’s opportunity to “Bee the Change” in their community. The exterior building isn’t the only thing about The 224 that has experienced a transformation. In April 2022, Founder Rev. Dr. Shelley Best stepped down from her role to take a CEO position at the Greater Hartford Arts Council.
And, The 224 recently became a member of the Hartford Chamber of Commerce. MetroHartford Alliance Content Manger Nan Price checked in with Interim CEO Rev. Lydell Brown to learn more about The 224 and its community impact.
NAN PRICE: Give us a little background. How did The 224 come to be and how has it evolved over the years?
REV. LYDELL BROWN: Around 11 years ago, Shelley and I were in San Francisco, where we sort of felt like small fish in a big pond. But when we started to talk about what we were doing here with The 224, people looked at us like we were big fish in a little pond.
At the time, it hit us that people in Hartford weren’t quite ready for what we were doing, where people on the West Coast told us they would love to be part of what we were creating. So, we kept building it because we wanted to make sure that what we saw in the West Coast could be here in Hartford.
We saw there was a couple other spaces in the East Coast similar to ours, but they didn’t have the artistry we have. They didn’t have spaces where people were doing performing art and things of that nature.
Shelley and I thought Hartford was ready for something like this. And now, people are really looking at the work we’re doing. People want to come into the building and they want to be a part of what’s happening here. That’s exactly what we wanted when we started the ball rolling here.
NAN: How does The 224 make an impact in the community?
LYDELL: We always tell people, “Your prosperity is our prosperity.” One of our goals is to let people see that you can come here and build your side hustle the way you want to build it.
Many of those who utilize the space come in after 4:00 p.m. because they work all day. Some realized that if they could get their side hustle done during the day, then maybe they’d eventually be able to leave their day job and start a business or transition to their business full time.
Right now, we have three businesses in the building that started from the ground up here. The longest standing one has been here for nine years.
NAN: The 224 has been described as a coworking space and an incubator for creative entrepreneurs. How do you describe it?
LYDELL: It is both of those things. It’s also a venue.
NAN: What is the benefit of becoming a member of the Hartford Chamber of Commerce?
LYDELL: It gives us more access to community. For a long time, there have just been a few of us working here. So, we haven’t had an opportunity to go out and let folks know what’s happening inside this building. It’s mostly been done passively, through word of mouth.
Now, it’s time for us to take our rightful place in the community—let people see what’s going on here, have conversations with folks about what we’re doing, and learn about what others are doing as well.
Becoming a Chamber member is a breath of fresh air. I think it’s going to pay off greatly by helping us build more relationships outside of the building and create more opportunities for people to come in and build relationships with us.
NAN: What’s the biggest takeaway you want people to know about The 224?
LYDELL: I want people to see that community works—especially after what we’ve collectively gone through with the pandemic. And that we can come back out. We can sit down and start to work together again.
Right now, our business growth center is growing. I think it’s because, over the last two years, more and more entrepreneur jobs have been developed.
More people are getting memberships to The 224 EcoSpace because they want see faces and they want to tap into some of the energy that happens here. And many people don’t want to work out of their homes anymore, so why not come here?