How to use makerspaces to create communities around art, culture and history

On our quest to research and map common spaces, we dive into specific sites and take a look at the reality of common space makers. Located in the heart of Copenhagen, STORM20 is a publicly funded multi-functional space, combining a café, a shop and a makerspace. Its purpose is to contribute to a vision of making History and Arts more accessible to all and to facilitate Museums’ collections as a resource for creativity. The aim is to do this at the street level and on a daily basis.

Early morning in the STORM20 makerspace, a place where citizens can work creatively with the history and art of Copenhagen, through diverse digital and analog production methods

On the heavily trafficked corner opposite Tivoli amusement park, STORM20 opened its doors in the last quarter of 2017. It is the latest add on to four cultural institutions: Museum of Copenhagen, Copenhagen City Archives, Thorvaldsens Museum and Nikolaj Kunsthal, who is unified in one organisation under the Culture and Leisure Administration of the City of Copenhagen.

STORM20 is part of the project “History and art at street level” (Danish), which received 4,7 million DKK from Nordea-fonden. The mission of the place is to strengthen people’s relations to the City’s History and make it more accessible to everybody and it has been given 1.5 years to achieve this challenging task. The place aims to increase interactions with and accessibility to the institutions collections and the City’s History, by trying out new concepts of user participation and hands-on activities. The belief is, that working innovatively and directly with the collections, not only gives better knowledge and understanding of Copenhagen’s History, art and cultural heritage, but also an increased desire to use it actively.

On a windy Thursday in April, we had a chat with the two leaders, who, together with the director of History & Art, Lene Floris, created the space: Siri Buric, the place’s project manager and Charlotte S. H. Jensen, a project consultant from the National Museum of Denmark. They shared their experience with running this type of place, the challenges they face as well as their analysis of the value it can bring to the city.

Siri and Charlotte the two women who are managing STORM20
Small displays exhibit both craftsmanship from the workshops and commercial items from the four institutions

Teaching History through creativity

STORM20 uses craftsmanship as a way to connect people to History and offers activities, such as sewing life back to cushion patterns from the 18th century or getting real tattoos with authentic motives from the old women prison in Christianshavn (which was demolished and has now been transformed into a bakery). Some of the workshops are hence introduced by a very short History talk, which serves as an inspiration for the creative work.

Tatoo event people get tattoos with authentic motives from the women’s prison at Christianhavns Torv. ca. 1927

Through these activities, STORM20 challenges the traditional way of approaching History, which can often be limited to a one-way dialogue through artefacts and text or an intellectual process, that focuses on formal knowledge.

The Tagging-cafe, where users tag data from the historic archives making it searchable for new users —
A workshop where you can make your own Neon-sign of the City Skyline

“As much as we love going to museums ourselves, we wanted to find new ways to communicate about History and art” — Charlotte says.

Silence before the Storm — the shared workstation which is made out of simple materials easy to adjust for multiple purposes

Community management on a time schedule

In a context of high competition for users’ attention and retention, STORM20 seeks to build strong relationships to the place’s guests. The two women therefore emphasize the key role they play as hosts:

“It is very important for us to always be present at STORM20, so we can engage with the users who come here and support the feeling of belonging and connectedness to the place. This is what we believe has paved the way for both the creation of new maker communities and attracting existing ones, like the WikiWednesday (Danish) club and the Coffee, Yarn & Thread cafe we have here now” says Siri. She continues: “Another important aspect is, that we would like STORM20 to be a place of community. Loneliness and a feeling of “not-belonging” is a major problem in urban areas. We want STORM20 to be a place of connection; to the city, to other workshop guests, to our hosts and to each other. We are also slowly starting a couple of social initiatives, especially targeting this purpose.”

The Copenhagen City Archives are also using STORM20 as a place for existing activities, such as tagging and keying. Volunteers key thousands of names from old records, making them accessible and searchable for citizens without the ability to read the old handwriting style. In the beginning of summer, the archives will open a new, citizen-driven activity: The Digitization Station. Here citizens will be able to digitize old video tapes, film etc. with the help of other citizens.

But despite the many activities, the limited timeframe of the project is a major challenge. “Building strong relations and communities takes time!” says Siri and emphasizes the challenge with the limited scope of the 1.5 years.

As much as the women welcome and encourage ownership of STORM20, they both agree that providing a place simply isn’t enough. The activation processes and the relationship building are the key features to create an impact, which they believe is why they have users come back over and over.

The mandatory coffee machine matched with old pictures of Copenhagen from the Museum of Copenhagen´s previous exhibitions

Seeking a common ground

STORM20 wishes to reach a diversity of audiences and therefore hosts activities, where both analog and digital tools are being used. The variety of workshops is developed through trial and error, where they test different types and adjust accordingly to attendance and user feedback.

A neatly organized workshop station in the low-tech part of the space
“Something happens when you have people gathered around common interests, not following a specific strategy for WHO you want to activate” Siri unfolds.

Charlotte continues and elaborates on how creative spaces often are uniform with activities for kids, “but adults love to be creative too, when given the chance” adds Siri. At STORM20, they therefore make sure to organize activities for all age groups, where building Copenhagen anno 1920 in Minecraft has attracted a younger crowd, while knitting the patterns of the floor at Thorvaldsens Museum, has attracted a target group ranging from 25+ and up, making it a place for different generations to meet and exchange ideas and skills.

The knitting workshop uses patterns that are interpretations of the floor of Thorvaldsens Museum which, when it opened in 1848, was built with inspiration from the colours and patterns of Pompeji and Herculanum.

The challenge of business models and measurement tools

Siri and Charlotte’s first ambition is for the place to be financially sustainable, but agree that they are missing benchmarks and strategies for places like theirs. They are, however, in the process of developing a new strategy and if they succeed in creating a sustainable business model or get further funding, the dream is to spread the “movement”. They don’t see their mission as attached to a specific place and Charlotte states: “I wish we could go use the “learning through creating”-method in many other places and communities as well”.

For now, a lot of great work has already made STORM20 a common place, creating new relations between its users and stronger ties to the city’s history. A part of their impact is measured by the numbers of users, but other tools are needed as well, to measure the social impact it has on the users coming here. As they also work with creating a sense of belonging, it would be beneficial to explore, how the communities and single users’ perception of belonging to the place and hence the city has changed. The same goes for the impact it must have on reduced feelings of loneliness between their users. How can this be measured and transformed into a tangible impact parameter, which is beneficial for the city and might be turned into a business model, where it is not only the amount of users, that is a milestone?

With emerging questions like these, we are looking forward to following both STORM20 and other common spaces, to get a better understanding how they impact cities and city life.

Elisa Katriona Pedersen — Community and common space explorer

Quotations are freely tranlated from Danish to English

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