The role of small business in social change
Insights from Maren Rosenberg and Melissa Schlesinger, Escape Artistry (Wicker Park)
“It’s very good that people want to talk about things and understand things, but it’s also kind of important that people just do things.” (Maren)
When it comes to social change, we all have a role to play in creating the kind of world that we want to live in. Businesses have a role too. We’ve all heard the buzzword. “Corporate Social Responsibility.” More often than not just lip service to the idea of community development. Maybe a day of service.
But what does it look like when a business is built around the principle of making its city a better place for everyone? What does it look like when “social responsibility” isn’t tacked on as an afterthought, but is actually the whole point? If these are the types of businesses you strive to support, look to Escape Artistry.
One of the first things that Maren said to me was, “Everything that you see here was built by someone who is a Chicago artisan.”
They employ Chicago artists for everything from creating the rooms (mostly from recycled and refurbished materials) to working as actors and actresses in the escape rooms to designing their website. This commitment to artists comes from their own backgrounds, Maren in theater and Melissa in set design. And by supporting artists through their business, which can pay much more than exclusively artistic ventures, artists are free to continue working on their other art as well.
Perhaps even more important is their work in education. Maren and Melissa are committed to making their escape rooms as accessible as possible, including working with schools with tight budgets that want to bring their students in to explore the problem solving and team building aspects of the escape rooms. They take every chance they get to pass on a little inspiration along the way: “Whenever UIC kids come in and whenever the younger kids come in…. I like to include the little tidbit that… ‘Hey, this company was started by women, first of all, need you to know that. Second of all, this job that I have did not exist when I was your age.’ And so the other thing that I like to instill in them is the whole….‘You don’t have to fit into any of the boxes that are out there, you can make your own. This industry didn’t exist when I was in school.’” (Melissa)
Maren and Melissa see their business as a vehicle for change. The more they grow and the more customers they have, the bigger their impact will be. They want to be open for more hours to create more jobs for artists and expand their team, which they are committed to making “as diverse as the city of Chicago” (Maren). They want to create a full on educational program with a more robust sliding scale for students, and perhaps build a mobile escape room to bring to schools, museums, and hospitals.
And they don’t waste time thinking and talking about what they can do to make an impact — they just act. “Rather than waiting for the world to look and be the way I wish it was, I can start as a business owner by creating my own world and then inviting other people into it, which then hopefully allows people to expand their imagination, expand their points of view, and then hopefully that effect ripples outward.” (Maren)