At Work: A Space with a Creative History Inspires Commons Studio

Matt Reese, Owner & Chief Photographer of Commons Studio.

“I’ve been working as a freelance photographer for five years and had been searching for a studio space for the last couple of years,” says Matt Reese, Owner & Chief Photographer of Commons Studio, Partner & Chief Creative Officer of We Are Glitterati, and Co-Founder & Producer of motive -busy guy!- when asked about his new space for Commons Studio.

His intention was for the space at 199 South High to be used as his personal studio space for his growing photography business.

“Then it quickly took on a life of its own,” he says. The space sparked inspiration for a different business concept. It welcomed a creative spirit, and it’s possible those creative spirits had never left the building.

“199 South High has historically been home to many creative professionals,” says Reese. “Orr-Kiefer Studios (a well-known photography studio specializing in portraiture and did a lot of municipal work) operated out of the space from 1902-1956. Lorenzo N. Baker, also a well-known photographer in his day, was based here for awhile too. He photographed famous individuals such as William McKinley and Annie Oakley. There was also The Pen & Pencil Club. Similar to Virginia Woolf’s Bloomsbury Group, this was an association of artists working in a variety of fields who used the space as their clubhouse in the early 1900s -the best known members of which included George Bellows and Billy Ireland.”

Commons Studio was born. A shared creative resource, Commons Studio makes available space, equipment, workstations, and more for photographers and videographers to rent for their own productions.

“We will be offering membership packages and hosting a series of private events such as artists talks, workshops, film screenings, and other engaging activities,” says Reese.




Reese isn’t new to the co-working scene. While he was getting his freelance business off the ground as We Are Glitterati, he was based out of Workshop Co. in the Short North Arts District for a few years.

“Workshop Co. was a great small-business incubator that provided a professional environment full of other creative entrepreneurs,” he says. “I found a lot of value in my time there. It opened up several new connections that helped further my career.”

When he started as an entrepreneur in his mid-20s, Reese feels fortunate that Workshop Co. was one of his first steps.

“The main floor had this sort of ‘post-coffee shop’ feel to it,” he says. “Everyone was so talented and eager to collaborate. Those young businesses made things happen. We had all the resources we needed to be legitimate.”

He also credits Midwest Photo Exchange as an integral in the development of his business.

“Especially their rental department,” he says. “I also turned to a consultant, a group out of Philadelphia, familiar with commercial studios to help with the business model.”

For Commons Studio, Reese has enjoyed the support from friends and family, notably his father Martin Reese, Frank Parrish, and Jeremy Gillman of Such support has allowed the growth of his business to be 100% self-funded, although he is currently exploring options through ECDI and the grants programs offered by the GCAC.

Todd and Eric Swigert of Skidzrow. They specialize in making furniture out of reclaimed materials. They salvaged corrugated steel and did an incredible job with the custom bar. They made a balcony bar ledge from reclaimed barn wood and industrial pipes.
Reese worked with Todd and Eric Swigert of Skidzrow for the custom bar made of salvaged corrugated steel.
Coffee Table
After seeing Brett Rogers’ work in Bodega, Reese commissioned a custom coffee table for the client lounge.
Many of the old photographs and cameras throughout the space were sourced from antique stores in Clintonville. Reese has also had a lot of luck finding items in Dayton and during the annual National Road Yard Sale.
A wrought iron gate leading to the space had him hooked.
The entrance. “Seeing the gate for the first time sent my mind racing with so many unanswered questions,” he says.

Reese hopes to build Commons Studio into a resource that will serve the creative community in an impactful way.

“I believe a business should constantly be creating and striving toward the next goal,” he says. “I spent about a month losing my mind over getting the branding and furnishings perfect. Before that it was the pricing structure of our services. And then further back, it was figuring out the accounting and legal side of things. There is always a new problem to solve.”

Reese feels the Downtown location of Commons Studio will help it succeed.

“Downtown is full of opportunity for people who are creative and innovative,” he says. “It has many of the conveniences of a major city while maintaining the comfort of a smaller community.”

The space is 2,800 square-feet of live/work space, with about 2,000 square-feet dedicated to the studio. It’s done with a reclaimed industrial modern feel and a mix of old and new. Ceilings sixteen feet high and exposed brick walls bounce natural light around the space. The views of Downtown make it a great place to work.

“Commons Studio is unlike any other studio I have ever seen and has exceeded all expectations,” he says.

How did Reese finance his studio space? 100% self-funded. There’s a tremendous amount of overlap in my personal and professional life, so most everything I earn goes right back into my business. That might sound kind of sad if I weren’t so passionate about my career, but, for me, it’s a way of life.

How does he keep up to date on industry trends? I recently joined the American Society of Media Photographers, American Advertising Federation, and the Ohio Art League. There is so much value to be found in organizations such as these. It’s great to have the support of colleagues in related fields for professional advice and opportunities. I am also a business member of the Downtown Residents Association of Columbus.

Advice he would have loved to have starting out: Without a doubt it would be pricing and negotiating. As a creative it can very difficult to determine the value of our services and then confidently communicate that to a potential client. It’s a skill I’ve had to learn over time.

On being involved in the community: Get involved. Or be involved. I believe it’s important to be an active member in your community and professional industry. Not everything pays financially, it shouldn’t always be about the money. You never know where an opportunity will lead you.

Photos by Walker Evans.

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Do you know of, have, or work in, a creative workspace and would like to be featured in this series? If so, please contact Anne Evans.