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Langley councilman launches Center for New Media

Russell Sparkman tries out the ambience at Langley Center Coworks: “I call it a home office away from home.” - Roy Jacobson / The Record
Russell Sparkman tries out the ambience at Langley Center Coworks: “I call it a home office away from home.”
— image credit: Roy Jacobson / The Record

Russell Sparkman has found a way to get out of the house and take his homework with him.

Sparkman, who has spent 14 of the past 17 years working from home, has established the Langley Center for New Media in the mayor’s former barbershop for other “digital nomads” such as himself.

“If people ask why Sparkman’s a little nuts, well ...,” he said.

“I’m tired of working in the isolation that home-based workers often face,” he continued, reflecting a growing national trend of social unease. “Quite frankly, we get lonely.”

So Sparkman is setting up shop in a funky little building on the corner of Second Street and Anthes Avenue. It’s still owned by Langley mayor and retired barber Paul Samuelson, and has by turns been a laundromat, hair salon, tanning salon and art gallery.

Sparkman is turning the building into a mini-conglomeration of his Internet consulting business Fusionspark Media, the his-and-her online businesses of two married tenants and a display area for Whidbey Telecom to show off the latest in broadband technology.

And to prove that he’s cutting-edge, Sparkman plans to install edible landscaping around the building.

But the centerpiece of the operation is his Center for New Media, which will organize programs, workshops, classes and other activities at the outer limits of techno.

“The center was created as a resource for people who have anything to do with new media,” Sparkman said. “Today, that means almost everybody.”

“Our overall vision is to provide educational resources and experiences,” he added.

Sparkman said the Center for New Media grew out of this past fall’s pilot project, “New Media 2012: Where the hell is all this headed, anyway?”

About 120 people, more than half from Whidbey Island, paid $30 each to attend a day-long new-media conference at the old-media Clyde Theatre.

A panel of national and local experts talked about next-generation visual journalism, cloud computing, content marketing, social media and online storytelling.

They talked about technological advances, hyper-real time, platforms and the online landscape (unlikely to be edible).

One participant plugged his laptop into the super broadband provided by Whidbey Telecom and streamed video of the conference in real time throughout the nation. Others pulled out their Blackberries and Twittered the conference highlights in real time through the ether.

But even tekkies need to feel grounded. Sparkman is providing the brick and mortar — actually, the siding, rough-hewn paneling and sliding interior barn doors — necessary to feed the soul.

He calls it the Langley Center Coworks. It’s a comfortable room with plush chairs, desks and office chairs, soft lighting, potted plants and the latest in Internet connectivity.

He sees it as a quiet, positive alternative for footloose Web workers who wheel and deal out of their briefcases in coffee shops, public libraries, hotel lobbies, phone booths and on park benches.

“We’re trying to create an office-like working space with a café-like ambience,” Sparkman said. “I call it a home office away from home.”

Individuals or groups can use the space for $6 an hour, $15 for half-days or $25 for full days. There’s a limited-offer membership available.

Included in the price are Whidbey Telecom’s fastest broadband wireless Internet; printer, fax and copier; and coffee, water and beverages.

Also available are a conference room that seats eight, complete with projector and white board.

Sparkman said interested persons are welcome to try out the Coworks free through March.

He said the center is being put together by him and his wife, Noriko, and a group of tech-savvy volunteers, but he predicts it eventually may result in a few new jobs for the area.

“We’re trying to show that Langley has a really good technology backbone,” Sparkman said, “that Langley is a technology enterprise zone on South Whidbey.”

Sparkman, 50, a Langley city councilman, said his new center fits in with the city’s attempt to emphasize arts, culture and education to attract young families, many of them with home-based tech businesses.

Himself the father of two teenagers, Sparkman said he has been running into more and more young Whidbey natives who say they want to return to the island to raise their children.

One such family is Aaron and Heather Racicot, each with an Internet business they’re setting up in the rear of Sparkman’s building.

Aaron Racicot, a South Whidbey native, and his wife have two young children and were anxious to return to the island.

Racicot said that encouraging this trend may be the answer to achieving a diverse demographic, and bringing more children to the area, which through time could reverse the rapidly declining school population.

“When you work in technology, you’re not tied to a particular location,” he said, “so South Whidbey becomes a choice location for young families.”

“That makes Langley very attractive,” he added.

The Langley Center for New Media and the Langley Center Coworks are at 117 Anthes Ave.

For information, call 221-4001 or e-mail Sparkman at russell@fusionspark.com.

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