Making Change

Dana Woodman (left corner) executive director of Chimera Arts Makerspace in Sebastopol, attended a national conference of makerspaces in Washington D.C.  on Wednesday, Aug. 24. The meeting, which inspired Woodman and other makerspace directors and users, has led to the grassroots formation of a national association of makerspaces.

Sebastopol-based shop participates in White House event

Coming back from a trip to Washington D.C., Dana Woodman, the executive director of Chimera Arts, has never felt more invigorated to be part of the makerspace movement.

A day-long event, hosted by the Office of Science and Technology Policy, united 180 makerspaces from across the United States to discuss and understand the special nuances, issues and inspiration guiding today’s makerspace movement.

In short, makerspaces — also sometimes called hackerspaces or fablabs — are creative, do-it-yourself shops where people can gather to create, invent and learn. Makerspaces can be stocked with everything needed to make and idea into an invention, from tools and hardware or craft supplies to 3D printers, software programs and electronics.

The event, held in the Eisenhower Building, located adjacent to the White House, was hosted in effort to further President Obama’s “A Nation of Makers” initiative. The initiative seeks to empower students and adults to create, innovate, tinker and make their ideas into solutions. In 2014, the White House hosted the first-ever White House Maker Faire. Upon the anniversary of the maker faire, the White House declared and honored the first National Week of Meeting in mid-June, to be celebrated annually nationwide by educational institutions, companies, libraries and museums.

Two weeks prior to the event, Chimera Arts received a survey via email from Andrew Coy, the senior advisor for Making of the Office of Technology and Policy. After responding, Coy sent an official invitation to the meeting of makers on Wednesday, Aug. 24.

“I think the survey was to vet makerspaces from a pool of potential spaces,” Woodman said. “I think he had a big list of makerspaces and he wanted to make sure the right ones attended.”

The focus on makerspaces is an important one, Woodman said, because of the mark they leave in local communities and economies.  

“It’s primarily a community, a place where people can share, learn from each other, teach each other and collaborate on projects and get access to tools and equipment,” Woodman said.

Makerspaces from around the country experienced their first sense of belonging to a larger makerspace community while at the White House event, Woodman said. The day kicked off with talks by White House officials, makerspace directors and Megan Smith, the U.S. Chief Technology Officer for the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

“Her speech was the most inspiring,” Woodman said. “She talked about the importance of the maker movement. People I know have a generally negative feeling toward government and politics and the bureaucratic hoops, but her talk was inspirational.  I can see why she’s the CTO.”

After the speeches and a White House-purchased lunch, the makers broke into groups to learn from one another on myriad topics, including marketing, training, grant applications and more.

“That was the most exciting part,” Woodman said. “These talks were really good. I learned a lot from people who do things differently or more successfully than us.”

One of Woodman’s takeaways for the Sebastopol-based makerspace is to hone the shop’s focus.

“We have a tendency to try to do everything, but we just don’t have the bandwidth or funds to do so,” he said.

Woodman also realized that Chimera Arts has a robust and successful training program for its makers. That said, he added the importance for the makerspace to document and write down its procedures, so they don’t remain in “everyone’s heads.”

What Woodman truly took away from the trip was the acknowledgement and understanding that makerspaces across the U.S. are incredibly alike, sharing similar goals and frustrations, despite ranging in size, available funds, profit or nonprofit status and location.

“Everyone is struggling with the same things,” Woodman said, citing issues like governmental funding, finding and training quality people who will volunteer for a nonprofit, makerspace bandwidth and training resources.

Those sessions built the foundation for a larger movement where makerspaces are joining forces to establish a nationwide association, Woodman said. The purpose of the association is to create a community, connecting spaces together.

Although still unnamed — the association is in nascent stages, operating for about two weeks — the “nation of makers” has already established many long-term goals that solve the common problems makerspaces face. He said the association, which currently communicates through a chat room and Facebook, is focused on identifying solutions — used within and outside of the industry — to see how to best meet makerspace needs and goals.

“We want to make it easier for makerspaces to have access to grants,” Woodman said. “We want to be able to share resources between spaces and we also want to figure out how to be more involved in childhood education.”

Chimera Makerspace is located at 6791 Sebastopol Ave in Sebastopol across the street from Community Market. For more information on the organization or to get involved, email info@chimeraarts.org or call 707- 827-3020.

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