We were lucky to catch up with Beth Beck recently and have shared our conversation below.
Beth, appreciate you joining us today. We’d love to hear about the best boss, mentor, or leader you’ve ever worked with.
Early in my career at NASA, I worked for Hum Mandell at the Johnson Space Center. He saw in me what I didn’t see in myself — and made an effort to call it out. He showed me, by example, how to lead. He leveraged my strengths and gave me confidence to rise up to exceed his expectations.
When he placed me in charge of a project, he stepped back and gave me full rein to manage it. Top aerospace execs would come to meet with him about the project, but he would call me in and have them address their questions to me, rather than answer for me. He valued my perspective, and always asked for my observations and insights after leadership meetings. He composed thoughtful and insightful performance appraisals for me, taking great care to recognize my contributions. His words meant more to me than any award I might receive. I’ve followed his example through the years when writing appraisals and recommendations. Thoughtful details matter.
Working with Hum, I learned the difference between secure and insecure management style. He led with humility, humor, competence, and grace, and wasn’t threatened by our ability to do well. He never needed to make me small so he could feel tall — which I experienced with other bosses and colleagues. The fact that Hum believed in me at the beginning of my career changed what I expected of myself, even when others tried to put me in a box over the years. Thank you Hum!
Beth, before we move on to more of these sorts of questions, can you take some time to bring our readers up to speed on you and what you do?
I retired from NASA in 2018 after three decades in federal service, the majority in Washington, DC, and moved home to the great state of Texas. I’m a disruptive thinker and problem solver with a passion for creativity, innovation, and collaboration — to bring about unexpected positive outcomes. My background as a ‘status quo disrupter’ and ‘doer’ intrigued Terry Casey, the owner of the historic McKinney Cotton Mill. We met soon after I moved to Texas when I was helping my sister, Aimee Woolverton, with a photo shoot at the Cotton Mill. After getting to know Terry, he handed me the keys to a 16,000 sq. ft. unused space in the former factory building and challenged me to transform my vision for supporting female entrepreneurs and creatives into reality. I had a choice: hand the keys back to Terry or start a business to fill the space. We’re three years into our sister nonprofits, MillHouse Foundation, and MillHouse McKinney.
I worked with my sister Aimee and three others to create MillHouse in 2019 to lift up micro-business women in creative fields. We now have two nonprofits, based on advice from the IRS. MillHouse Foundation supports creatives by offering showcase opportunities to grow business income potential through festivals, public art, and collaborative community projects. Our membership-based business league, MillHouse McKinney, operates a 12,000 sq.ft. section of the historic McKinney Cotton Mill which offers creative women a place to come together and grow their dreams in a supportive community through co-working, studio space, workshops, speakers, and events. Our third partner, artist Dana Brock, curates the art exhibitions in the facility, and manages all our art festivals and events.
We believe that women create and innovate better in a collaborative environment — which is what MillHouse is all about. Our members are writers, readers, business owners, stay-at-home moms, artists, creatives, crafters, photographers. wine lovers, chocoholics, instructors, students, entrepreneurs, dreamers, doers, and thinkers. Members can snag a comfy couch to work or relax, take part in events and activities, lead workshops and host events, or simply recharge their emotional batteries. Members can host clients in the private conference room. We have 30 member studio spaces, and have plans to expand this Spring with larger studios with front-facing gallery space that looks out onto the new Cotton Mill Atrium Hallway.
Through MillHouse Foundation, we host indoor art festivals at the Cotton Mill twice a year. This year, we’re hosting our first ever Wine and Walls MuralFest on the Cotton Mill lawns. This festival is unique in that visitors will bring a lawn chair to come watch muralists paint their designs on designated spaces around the century-old building. They can taste wine, eat, shop, and bid on mobile murals to take home. Mark your calendar: June 18-19, noon to 6 pm. We have additional Art on the Lawn festivals in the planning stages.
My MillHouse life pivot has been the most challenging and rewarding season of my life. I believe God calls us to the mountain peaks, if we’re willing to leave comfort behind and make the climb. I personally don’t like heights (or cold), but I’m willing to answer the call. I’ve been a public servant my entire career, and MillHouse is much like public service. I feel privileged to serve the women of MillHouse, who invest their time and talent with us to realize their dreams in whatever field they choose. And, the highlight of MillHouse is serving alongside my business partners and fellow founders, Aimee Woolverton and Dana Brock.
Background/Education: Phi Beta Kappa, Bachelor of Science from The University of Texas at Austin, Master of Public Affairs from the UT L.B.J. School, and Doctorate of Philosophy in Planning, Governance and Globalization from Virginia Tech. I studied photography at the Corcoran School of Art in D.C. My pinhole photography was featured in a one-artist exhibit at the Torpedo Factory Art League in Alexandria, Virginia.
What can society do to ensure an environment that’s helpful to artists and creatives?
We need a state-wide Culture Quotient Credit – a tax incentive for property owners to offer and retain below-market rates for artists and creatives.
Truth: Artists and creatives move into warehouse districts and bring the ‘IT Factor.’
Result: They create art, music, murals, festivals and events, and breathe new life into the neighborhood. Little shops, bars, and restaurants spring up. Businesses move in. Property values go up. Rent goes up. Artists leave. You know the story.
Here’s the reality for state, county, and municipal planners: it’s a straight-forward process to quantify (and justify) an economic return-on-investment (ROI) from tax subsidies that support new business growth, technology enhancements, industry relocations, or large-scale development projects. The culture quotient ROI is relatively intangible. In addition, artists tend to fall in the micro-business category, which rarely garners attention for macro-level economic development strategy.
The challenge is to find creative solutions that enable creatives to earn a living wage in our community, while rewarding property owners and neighborhoods for supporting them with affordable studio spaces. A tangible financial incentive for property owners would go a long way to preserve below-market rates for artists. A culture quotient property tax credit, much like an historic property tax credit, would reward building owners for attracting and retaining artists-in-residence. The inevitable increase in property value and the resulting higher taxes would be offset by the culture credit.
Credits like this exist in some localities, but to answer the question about what society can do, I’d like to see culture credits in every city and state. In the meantime, we’re doing our part at MillHouse to keep costs down and help elevate earning potential for micro-business women in creative fields. We couldn’t do it without support from the Cotton Mill Partners. We feel blessed to be part of the vision they have for their east McKinney gem. If you haven’t been to McKinney to see the Cotton Mill, it’s well worth the trip. The century-old architecture is breathtaking. We’d love to give you a tour!
How about pivoting – can you share the story of a time you’ve had to pivot?
People often ask me what it feels like to fulfill a lifelong dream with building MillHouse. The reality is: MillHouse is an unexpected life pivot. My grand plan, after 33 years in federal service, was to garden, read and write books, play with art, and explore the great state of Texas with my handy iphone camera.
MillHouse came about through a series of interconnected events. I moved home to Texas to help care for my aging Mother. My sister Aimee (and fellow MillHouse founder) had her photography studio at the Cotton Mill, where I met the owner, Terry Casey. Terry introduced me to City leaders, who were interested in bringing innovation companies to the Cotton Mill. They invited me to participate in the McKinney Culture of Innovation Committee. While serving on the Committee, I drafted the Committee Charter for how to attract innovation companies to McKinney, and realized that small business women needed everything on the list – access to facilities, equipment, specialized expertise, financing, and affordable housing.
When I chatted with Terry about our Committee findings and the need to support creative, entrepreneurial women, he handed me the keys to our current MillHouse location. With keys in hand, I started working on the business plan.
I often caution new business startups NOT to follow our lead in how to create a business. We did everything backwards. We started with brick and mortar before we had a business to pay for the space. We envisioned a space where women could start with an idea, design the business while sitting cross-legged on a comfy couch, move over an open studio, transition to a small private studio, then keep trading up as the business grows. We had to do that for our own business with a phased approach to building out the Cotton Mill warehouse space.
When we talk about MillHouse, we have our BC (Before Covid) stories about who/what we were back in the beginning of time, as opposed to who/what we are today. So much has changed, yet our mission remains the same — supporting micro-business women in creative fields.
Before Covid, we opened with 1500 sq. ft. and four artist studios in June, 2019. We expanded in October of 2019 to add a 4000 sq. ft. co-working space with a shared yoga-photography studio. coffee bar, and living room suites. We hosted workshops and classes, engagement parties, weekly speakers, and kid-care for moms taking classes. We held our second indoor art festival a few weeks before the world stopped.
We lost half our income in the first month of the world wide Covid shutdown. We had to rethink co-working, and saw a better future with private studio spaces. Thanks to the generous support from the Cotton Mill Partners, we added an additional 6000 sq. ft. of space with two dedicated photography studios, nine private studios, three changing rooms, two hair and makeup stations, and a private conference room. We transitioned the former co-working space to open studios for artists, added a dedicated co-working space in a separate section, and updated our member kitchen. While we grew, our artists painted murals on the MillHouse exterior walls of the Cotton Mill, and managed multiple art festivals for us. And, we’re growing again. In the spring, if all goes well with City permits, we’ll add larger member studio spaces with a hallway-facing MillHouse gallery to showcase and sell their work.
Life is full of inconvenient choices that lead to unexpected blessings on every pivot we encounter – depending on how well we embrace the messiness.
- Website: https://millhousefoundation.org and https://millhousemckinney.com
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/millhousemckinney
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/millhousemckinney
- Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/company/millhouse-foundation and https://www.linkedin.com/company/millhouse-mckinney
Image credit: Dr. Beth Beck for all images except the one of me at the desk, taken by Photographer Cortnie Davis of Cortnie Dee Photography, and the group shot of our leadership team at ArtFest, taken by McKinney City Council Member Patrick Cloutier.