Last night I was flipping through an old Wired magazine and saw a RadioShack ad. You may or may not know the series, technical projects with references to things you have never heard of. This one intrigued me – make a rainwater collection system that by solar power pumps the water to a tank that by its location (up high) creates a pressurized tank for watering your garden, washing the car, etc.. I probably won’t make it, but the possibility prompted me to ponder, where would I work on such a thing or ask others for help if I wanted to? There is the interwebs of course, but one thing I have learned while I have been associated with the Adult School in town is that the web is a weak substitute for face to face instruction or a personal community to help you learn something.
I’ve been a bit of a tinkerer for a long time. I enjoy technology projects and it turns out I am not alone. A week and a half ago the Worldwide Maker Faire was held in Queens, NY and many of my friends in town made the trek there to enjoy what was dubbed “The Greatest Show and Tell on Earth“. I was also excited to see the story on Barista Kids last week about Lara Arda, of Glen Ridge, NJ, who won an award for her lemon battery project. There is much talk of course in the press about STEM (Science, Tecnology, Engineering, and Math) support in our schools, but it’s my opinion that more is needed here in Montclair where those who are excited by these sorts of projects can come together to share knowledge, work on projects, and build some really cool things. In short, I believe we need and deserve a Makerspace in or around Montclair. To that end, I have pulled together a brief set of questions and answers about Makerspaces and how we could make one happen here.
Let’s jump in shall we?
What is a Makerspace?
From a description on the Artisan’s Asylum Makerspace site:
To describe them simply, makerspaces are community centers with tools. Makerspaces combine manufacturing equipment, community, and education for the purposes of enabling community members to design, prototype and create manufactured works that wouldn’t be possible to create with the resources available to individuals working alone. These spaces can take the form of loosely-organized individuals sharing space and tools, for-profit companies, non-profit corporations, organizations affiliated with or hosted within schools, universities or libraries, and more. All are united in the purpose of providing access to equipment, community, and education, and all are unique in exactly how they are arranged to fit the purposes of the community they serve.
Makerspaces represent the democratization of design, engineering, fabrication and education. They are a fairly new phenomenon, but are beginning to produce projects with significant national impacts; notable projects and companies to emerge from makerspaces include the Pebble Watch (a programmable watch whose team is the recipient of the largest Kickstarter campaign in history), MakerBot (creators of a low-cost 3D printer that’s revolutionizing the entire rapid prototyping industry), and Square (a painless payment gateway enabling small businesses to collect money easily worldwide), just to name a few.
How would we envision a Makerspace in Montclair?
There are many different types of Makerspaces as described above. I certainly have my own preferences, but the actual parameters of such a space in Montclair would be driven by the founders of such a space after a careful analysis of our local market, demographic, and goals. I have been working to reach out to other technology focused residents, but we do not yet have critical mass (enough interest as shown by number of people and those who are willing to invest a financial stake) that would allow us to move forward.
Think about these possibilities – Diverse ages working together to learn hands on building and creating methodologies, classes to teach core technologies (e.g. welding, soldering, circuit design, 3D printing, coding), a place to hang out and make cool things with your friends and neighbors, or even pulling together the people and tech to initiate the next exciting start up.
Who is “us”? How many people are currently working towards this goal?
The effort to create a Makerspace in Montclair started back in March of this year when we hosted a Meetup at the Commonwealth Club to present the concept and solicit initial interest. At that time I created a Google group for Montclair Makers That group currently has 43 members and a varying set of members meet monthly to discuss our current projects and the Makerspace initiative. Members of this group had an initial trial run of a class on the Arduino device and what it can do at the Montclair Adult School this past Spring.
Why hasn’t it happened yet? Why does it take so long?
There are a number of reasons, but the short answer is that it is a complicated project, we’re all busy, and the idea is an expensive one. Consider that the actual space would have a significant rental cost (industrial space with a triple net lease) for a reasonably sized space, factor in insurance, operating capital, possible salaries, and consumables and you can get an idea of the many costs. We currently don’t have enough energized people to either start it or sustain it. BUT, if we come together to make it, it can reflect our community.
What about the other side of the balance sheet? How do you make enough money to sustain such a Makerspace?
There are three general revenue streams for such a space: 1) Memberships to the space (monthly fee), 2) Income from classes offered by the Makerspace, 3) Rental of work space to individuals. Different Makerspace types balance these streams differently. Note, there are also grant and donation options, but I would not expect those to be large enough to drive the effort.
How do you fix the problem of not having your so called “critical mass” of people and funding?
My theory is that we have that group of people in town already and that they just aren’t identified or organized yet. We have all sorts of makers in town ready to join the cause, we just haven’t met yet. Two examples. 1) When I was at the Make a Makerspace class in Queens last week I had an impromptu lunch with some folks from Brooklyn and Upstate NY. When I mentioned that I was from Montclair, the first thing they mentioned was “you have a great High School Robotics team!”, 2) Some of you may know that I am also on the Board of the Adult School of Montclair. Care to guess what our most successful class was last year and continues to draw great interest? Welding!
We need to connect those of you who have an interest in this and find those who we may know that are also interested. My idea to facilitate this is to offer a set of classes on various technologies at the Adult School and various locations and times in Montclair this Spring. With a set of classes we can show the community some of the things we could do and also pull in those who have a passion they may want to share in the technology realm. Please note, my intention would be for these classes to be priced only to cover the cost of materials/marketing and not turn a profit for ASM. They should be “loss leaders.”
I believe that the excitement of a properly implemented set of classes will help us get the people and funding we need to make it happen by late Spring 2014. Ambitious? Yes, but I think we can do it. I am happy to help coordinate it and be one of the founders.
OK, You have me interested. What can I do next?
1. Learn more about Makerspaces. Google is your friend. I recommend the Make blog as a great place to start.
2. Join the local Montclair Makers group. We’d be happy to have you join us. No, it’s not moderated <wink>.
3. Once you or your contacts (you will tell them too, right?) have joined the group, see the list of possible classes I posted there. If you can teach a class listed or have other ideas for classes in this group, post that to the group. I’ll help you create the class, it’s what I do at ASM.
4. Join us in person at our next meet up at Just Jakes (back room) at 8pm Tuesday October 22.
5. Have questions not answered here or via your web queries? Ask the group, or feel free to contact me directly.
6. Not interested in doing the heavy lifting, but you have a large chunk of change you’d like to commit to the project? GOTO #4 above and use the same address link.
I hope to see you on the Montclair Makers list and around town.