Crafting Community: Q&A with Rianna Sprague

Founder & CEO, New City Craft

Step into the vibrant world of New City Craft, a unique ceramics studio that goes beyond the conventional, embracing the art of diversity and skillful craftsmanship. In this interview, we sit down with the Inspire11 M2M recipient and visionary behind this inspiring venture, Rianna Sprague, as she takes us through her entrepreneurial journey and the heartwarming mission behind her creative haven in Chicago.

Can you share with us the story of how you started New City Craft?

I’ve been teaching ceramics in Chicago for about 10 years, and I saw that people who were outgrowing community-level beginner-based classes really needed a space to move on and create more advanced work. So, I wanted to create a space where people could explore different kinds of work, have various types of firings, and take their ceramics to the next level. 

What challenges have you faced as an entrepreneur in the art space, and how have you overcome them?

One of the challenges I faced when starting was trying to find a place to rent out that met the electrical and firing requirements. It was very difficult to find a suitable space, so I ended up buying a 2-flat building and renovating it over the last year or two to become what it is today. It’s a great space, and I’m happy to have had the opportunity to grow in that space. 

What resources have you found most helpful in your business journey? 

Community, just having the people I have been working with for years come and help with the business. Networking is also a big part of it. M2M has been helpful with the loan and capital. It’s been really great to have people believe in my community and vision. 

What role do you think craft businesses like yours play in preserving traditional skills and promoting art and culture? 

One of the reasons I wanted to name my business New City Craft was because I wanted to keep art that requires a certain skill set and equipment to give people space to create. We want to continue to carry on a lot of those different traditions by having various kinds of tools, firing techniques, and materials for ceramics and teaching people how to use them. It carries on that knowledge. During our first workshop, we had teachers come in to learn how to repair films, so they can learn how to do it and edit their films. It was kind of surprising that people heard about the workshop that I didn’t even know – found out about the workshop because no other space [has upper skill levels of ceramics.] 

How do you see New City Craft supporting and encouraging the growth and success of artists in the Chicago community?

In particular, New City Craft’s main goal is to help artists in the community directly. So right now, we offer discounts for those in our zip code, and this is how we diversify crafts because traditionally crafting hasn’t been the most welcoming in that aspect. 

How do you stay motivated and inspired, and what resources do you use for your personal growth? 

A big motivating factor for me has been my teachers. The fact that great teachers help facilitate the growth of artists is what keeps crafts alive – through mentorship.

What are your plans for New City Craft? Do you have any upcoming projects or events you would like to share with our readers?

Yes, we will do workshops once a month with different experimental firings. So right now is even a great time to network between different ceramic programs because if you’re registered in a local ceramics program, you get a discount for our firing workshop. Also, we are renting out space for our members, artists, and residents so that those workshops remain free for them. This way, if we do different workshops, it gets the community interested in what we are crafting.

Do you have any advice for aspiring craft artists looking to start their own business? 

You have to be patient. One thing that I learned is that when I first started this concept, I thought we would be open, and everything would be quick. Patience has been a virtue for sure.

Learn more about Rianna’s story. 

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