Hackerspace Culture Comes to Ames

December 23rd, 2010 · 10 Comments

A new non-profit organization that was established earlier this year in downtown Ames, below Downtown Deli on the southwest side of Main Street, is working to make our community a little more handmade.

Called the Ames MakerSpace, the organization is an instance of a “hackerspace.” A hackerspace is a place for people to work on projects and share ideas and information related to the manufacturing of objects. In the past few years, these places have popped up in cities all over the world, their spread facilitated by the Internet, where people can easily share ideas and advice on DIY projects.

Nitin Gadia, one of the founders of the MakerSpace (as well as a longtime friend of mine and contributor to the Progressive), said that in the early stages it was conceived of as an unconventional organization. “I don’t want there to be mission statements or goals,” Gadia said. Instead, the founders brainstormed a list of one-word values like “spontaneous,” “creative,” and “informal.” But perhaps the most prominent value is “malleable” – the MakerSpace is intended to be an entity that can easily shape-shift to fit the needs and interests of the specific community members who use it.

Members of the MakerSpace share their downtown location with a business called Re-Design, which is run by Jeannie Randall. She has opened her workroom to the MakerSpace members, who in turn pay a portion of the rent on the space. The two organizations have similar functions, so their shared use of the downtown location has proved mutually beneficial. It’s kept costs affordable for the MakerSpace, which has allowed the organization to focus more on creativity than fundraising in its early stages. (It does hope to eventually operate its own space.)

The MakerSpace’s main workroom at the moment is low-ceilinged but spacious and filled with a huge variety of objects. Everything from furniture to toys to household items are stacked and piled around it. In the center sits a large table which a few folks fashioned out of spare doors and some stepladders.

So far, a handful of local makers have utilized the space. Douglas Choi, Paul Hovey, and Steven Lischer used it as a workshop for a design project in which they created a user interface for a coffee vending machine. They entered their project into Iowa State University’s World Usability Day competition and won $250. They donated the prize money to the MakerSpace, which covered an entire month’s worth of operating expenses.

The MakerSpace’s members envision a time when the place could be both a workshop and a type of community center. “We want to organize classes and teach people how to make things,” said Jeff Hall, an early member. It could also become an incubator for local business, where entrepreneurs could manufacture their own products. “They can do something here that gives them a way to support themselves without having to work for a giant, faceless corporation,” Hall said.

Isaac Norman, a local musician (and long-time Progressive collaborator), shares that vision. “I’d like to see small businesses starting here,” he said. He is currently using the space as a workshop for converting an electric organ into an amplifier. The amp will be for his personal use, but he is also considering producing more amps and selling them.

Norman found out about the MakerSpace through Facebook, which has been the group’s main form of outreach so far. Facebook is the easiest way to get in touch with its members at the moment if you are interested in accessing the space. They hold weekly gatherings on Tuesday evenings that are informal “hang-outs” where members can meet, talk, and work on their projects. Gadia said that they would like to eventually start a website that could be an online version of the physical space: a digital forum for discussing projects, sharing ideas, and spreading information on DIY techniques.

Tags: 2010 · AP Issues · December 2010 · DIY · Nate Logsdon · Of Local Importance

10 responses so far ↓

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