It wasn’t long ago that I wanted to set up my own makerspace. I spent far too many hours looking at a cost analysis of renting spaces, buying 3d printers, and how many Club Mates I would have to sell to keep it all going. No matter how I crunched the numbers it was clear I was missing something. A makerspace needs a maker culture.
What makes up maker culture?
We have all met the people who are a little eccentric. The guy who is driven to make LEDs blink and servos turn.The girl who is giving her garden a voice to tweet when it needs a drink. These magnificent people are makers!
Makers are possessed with making things spin and flash and talk to each other. Now, all of us nerds out there are finding it is lonely work strapping lasers to our coffee tables. We found it was a lot more fun to make pancake printers with our nerdy friends. Combine this with the instant feedback and the shared learning power of the internet and a maker culture is born.
Chicken or the Egg?
The age old question, “Do makers make a makerspace or does the makerspace make the makers?” Unfortunately the answer is just as difficult as the tongue twister question. The right answer is neither, it is the momentum of the movement that makes both the makerspace and the people in it.
To be a bit less abstract, think about a place that has been set aside with all kinds of equipment but nobody to use it. Then think about people working alone in their garage uninspired and eventually losing interest in their own projects. That is no makerspace and there is no makers. Sprinkle in the special sauce, a dash of the making bug, and all of that becomes an idea that transforms communities.
A Young Maker’s Journey
I was but a young whippersnapper when my mom bought me my first copy of “Make:” right before a long plane ride. I was in awe the whole ride with my magazine on my not so upright seat back tray. These people are building robot bugs and all kinds of other cool stuff! One project in particular caught my eye, The Brain Machine!
The Brain Machine uses pulsing light and sound matched to the frequencies of particular brain states (Beta, Alpha, Theta, and Delta frequencies) to induce alert, introspective, or meditative states. That is pretty sweet right? Now let me remind you, I had no idea what an LED was much less how to program a pre-arduino microcontroller. I had a complete parts list and detailed step by step guide on how to make this magic brain controller and still couldn’t manage to figure out which way was up. I was not yet a maker, but I had become enamored with maker culture.
Back to the Future (Or present)
I didn’t realize what a profound impact that article would have on me, and I did not realize why until I was doing some research for this post. I re-read that article about the Brain Machine and recognized the guy wearing the hypnotic looking contraption. The inventor of one of my childhood inspirations was none other than Mitch Altman, co-founder of Noisebridge and one of the most influential makers of the maker movement.
Mitch knew his work was important. He was the guy who figured out that if he built it they would come. Once Noisebridge got into its first location it quickly outgrew its space and moved into a much larger 5,200 square foot building. He has since been called the “Johhny Apple Seed of Hackerspaces” because he builds the maker culture wherever he goes.
Every successful makerspace is built upon the culture around it. It is the culture that decides if a space is a failed social experiment or a catalyst that inspires a community. Mitch recognized this and he built a rocket to strap the maker movement to and sent it into orbit.
Making a Maker Culture
There is only one way to develop that culture, MAKE! Designing, soldering, sawing, bending, hammering, and printing all of these brilliant things with a bunch of nerdy individuals is the only way to get the ball rolling on a shared workspace. The sooner we build the culture the sooner everybody can really get to collaborating and turning projects into startups and doing what they love.
This is a call to action. Get out there and fabricate! Then go do it again with like minded friends. Don’t fret the details of when, where, and why but get out and make some mistakes.
Forge Arkansas is putting a ton of work into this crazy movement we have on our hands. Everything that has been done and what we have in the works will change how our community solves problems and learns to work together. But until we have a space of our own I plan on taking a page from Mitch’s book to build our maker culture, keep on making.
[I will leave you with a video of Mitch Altman talking about his part in the maker movement]