The Time Has Come for Publicly Funded Makerspaces
President Obama, in a presidential proclamation, proclaimed the week of June 17th, 2016 as the “Week of Making” all across the United States.
Having just returned from The White House for the kickoff to the Week of Making and witnessing the Champions for Change event, celebrating makers from all over the United States, the winds of change are moving in the direction of creating community makerspaces.
What is a makerspace, might you ask? A makerspace is a gathering place for creatives, business developers, tinkerers, do-it-yourselfers, artists and more- to design and build things. It’s a place where people from the community can work on their ideas, use 3D printers, laser cutters, woodwork, metalwork, design. It’s a place where budding entrepreneurs can come to flesh out their ideas, collaborate, and build the next great idea. Imagine you had an idea for a new kind of toothbrush- you could walk down to your local makerspace where a facilitator would help you design it and print out a prototype. For example, in Chicago at the Chicago Industrial Art and Design Center (www.ciadc.org), your maker helper would be Matt Runfola, a metalworking and forging expert.
Why do we need makerspaces? I would liken a makerspace to the “library of the future.” In fact, Chicago’s Harold Washington Library has the Makerlab, albeit, it’s tiny and not designed to serve an entire city. Right now, there are a handful of makerspaces in the City of Chicago, including Catalyze Chicago (West Loop), South Side Hackerspace (Bridgeport, IL), and surrounding areas like Workshop 88 (Glen Ellyn, IL). All of these are funded in their own unique ways, mostly by memberships or donations.
The time has come for our cities to start building their own makerspaces with each community having their own separate place. With just an easy walk or metro ride, working on an idea or finding people that can help you take your idea to market will be as easy as opening a door. That door should be opened to every student, parent, teacher, and community member- much like city libraries are.
I helped design one of Illinois’ first makerspaces for schools: The Innovation Lab at Quest Academy, where students use design and modeling to solve problems, small and large. As the coordinator of such a space and a former Chicago Public School science teacher, I see the need for a space like this that is not open to just a privileged few, but for each and every child and adult who has ever had an original idea.
Many people, like the President-Elect of the Public Library Association, Felton Thomas, are pushing the idea of makerspaces as add-ons to their current library spaces. I believe that city makerspaces would be better served as its own idea, much like the AS200 is in Rhode Island. AS220 is part of a network of makerspaces, serving communities all over the world.
While many of our cities struggle with funding in myriad ways, we need to double down on methods that empower our students and community to take control of their own destinies. That’s what a makerspace offers. We need start the trend- where creativity, making, and developing a spirit of entrepreneurship is not something for a select few, but a right for every citizen.
It’s time for publicly funded makerspaces.