Chicago’s Only Jewish Coworking Space SketchPad Moves to New Space

Have you heard about Chicago’s only Jewish coworking space – SketchPad?! Did you know they moved to a new building? SketchPad energizes and strengthens an open Chicago Jewish community by promoting collaboration and innovation for Jewish nonprofit organizations and professionals. SketchPad provides coworking space and programming that stimulates cross-fertilization of ideas, further invigorating our communal landscape. ChiTribe had a chance to talk to Dana Kresel, Sketchpad Executive Director, to learn all about the NEW space.

Organizations based at Sketchpad: Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, Avodah, KAHAL, SVARA, The Workers Circle, JCC Chicago, ORT America,No Shame On U, Jewish Initiative for Animals, Keshet, Reboot, Limmud, and Sacred Spaces.

When was SketchPad founded?

Dana: SketchPad was dreamt up in the late 2010s, but first opened its doors in December 2017 with commitments by several organizations (all of whom are still members to this day)!

Our unofficial mascots, Shmuel (he/him) and Rochel (they/them), grabbing a mid-afternoon snack in the breakroom.

What does Jewish coworking look like?

Dana: It’s a rich and beautiful tapestry of colleagues and friends showing up with their whole selves while making a difference in the Jewish community. More than a workspace, SketchPad serves as a cultural and intellectual hub for the city’s Jewish nonprofit professionals, and a model for a new type of Jewish community space that focuses on translating Jewish values into practical, people-focused outcomes. Put another way: curated professional development and learning opportunities; socially and environmentally conscious workspace practices; and a community culture that supports the interplay between Jewish tradition and innovative coworking.

Tell us more about the new space?

Dana: 10,000 sq ft of awesomeness! It’s a huge space, full of natural light, made up of differently sized private offices, flexible/hot desks, and dedicated desks to fit the various space needs – and budgets! – of Jewish communal professionals and organizations. We have gender-inclusive restrooms; a comfortable wellness/nursing room; a large break room/kitchen area; and several conference rooms of varying sizes with hybrid AV technology for Zoom meetings and conference calls – they’re perfect for Board meetings and staff retreats. There’s a huge open space that is ideal to rent out for bigger events. We have an old-school vault which we plan to turn into a podcast studio.

Our Big Open Space – during the day, a place where members can work and collaborate; and on weekends and evenings, a place for special events and programs. (Don’t worry – we have more conference rooms and plenty more desks!)

What is your background and how did you get involved? What is your role?

Dana: I’m the new(ish) executive director of SketchPad – and delighted to be here! I’ve been a Jewish communal professional, educator, and volunteer for over a decade, working on behalf of organizations focused on myriad expressions of Jewish life and education. My husband and I moved here from New York City in May 2021, and I began at SketchPad in an interim capacity, excited by the opportunity to meet diverse Jewish professionals and to better get to know Chicago. Clearly, I loved it, and can’t wait to keep building, growing, and supporting this community.

What organizations are represented?

Dana: A wide range! It’s a mix of Chicago-based orgs to local chapters of national orgs to independent professionals: our members organize social justice campaigns; offer inspiring and inclusive Jewish education; promote LGBTQ inclusivity; raise awareness of the importance of mental health; provide resources and services to prevent abuse at Jewish institutions – it really runs the gamut! Since we moved late last year, we’re grateful to the following members who renewed their membership, or joined for the first time: Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, Avodah, KAHAL, SVARA, The Workers Circle, JCC Chicago, ORT America, No Shame On U, Jewish Initiative for Animals, Keshet, Reboot, Limmud, and Sacred Spaces. We’ve had several groups rent our conference rooms for Board meetings and individual events and celebrations.

 SketchPad’s Board President Susan Morrow, 47th Ward’s Alderman Matt Martin, and SketchPad’s Executive Director Dana Kresel

How did coworking shift throughout the pandemic?

Dana: While some folks feel comfortable spending a portion of their time working flexibly/remotely, nevertheless people are still hungry to be together again in person (with the right safety and health precautions in place!) and to have those serendipitous interactions that lead to great ideas and collaborations. I think what has shifted slightly are the kinds of resources and professional development content folks are seeking – so we’re working with our growing membership to learn what tools and resources can help them continue to grow and succeed, at both the individual and organizational levels. And that’s what we’re here to support.

What is the essential part of Jewish coworking office culture?

Dana: I think it’s a mix of things, but comes down to a commitment to being in a community together. That includes a commitment to a set of shared values; a willingness to collaborate and innovate; build relationships; and to do all those things in a joyful, inclusive, and proudly Jewish space. Oh, and also our red penguin mascots. Shmuel (he/his) and Rochel (they/them) definitely help set the tone from the minute you walk into the space.

Wendy Singer (No Shame On U) posing with Mishloach Manot gift packages for residents of the SelfHelp Home on Purim, March 2022

How do we get more involved with sketch pad – for the community?

Dana: Join our newsletter to find out about programming opportunities! Follow us on social media! Reach out about spending a day working in the space or renting it out for a retreat or meeting – and if you love it, let’s talk about membership opportunities! 

How do Jewish organizations become members?

Dana: All prospective members are invited to submit an application for review; you can tell us more about your organization; the constituencies you serve and how; collaborations you’re interested in exploring; and why you want to be part of the SP community! 

When the Tribe Gathers…There are endless possibilities to make a positive impact, together.

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Tali Kramer

Tali Kramer