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Participants discuss the process of making a makerspace.

Participants discuss the process of making a makerspace.

Outside, you could hear the thwack of hammers and the beeps of trucks backing up.

Maker Faire was coming together on the Friday before opening.

But inside this classroom, a very serious group of 32 were intensely focused on the process of making a makerspace. The workshop had attracted activists from all over the U.S., and abroad, and the discussion was serious and earnest.

The all-day session was led by two leaders of the successful Artisan’s Asylum in Somerville, Massachusetts: Gui Calvalcanti, the founder, and Molly Rubenstein, the acting director.

The setting was appropriate: many of the most interesting and exciting exhibits at this year’s Maker Faire were created at makerspaces: public facilities that grant members access to valuable tools, teach people how to use those tools, and sometimes offer project and studio space for rent.

These spaces are helping a new generation of makers create amazing products that they never could have dreamed of before, and are helping launch a whole wave of maker-founded businesses like OpenROV, MakerBot, Square, Pebble Watch, and more.

But starting and running a makerspace is a new and challenging project. How do you find potential members for a makerspace? How do you find the tools you need to fill out the space? How do you choose an appropriate location? How do you get insurance? How do you make sure your space meets building code and fire regulations, and doesn’t get shut down by your local government? These questions come up again and again, and not having good answers to them can often shut down fledgling spaces.

This past February, Artisan’s Asylum and MAKE teamed up to produce a 3-day conference, “How to Make a Makerspace.” The sold-out event attracted 180 people who were all looking to start spaces. They heard about best practices from 20 different panelists and experts in real estate, insurance, and local government. The conference gave a kick start to more than 60 spaces across the country, who are now setting up shop in cities far and wide.

Since it was obvious that many, many more were interested, MAKE and Artisan’s Asylum decided to offer a pared-down, 6-hour version of the conference at the Bay Area Maker Faire. The focus: must-know best practices around starting a space, finding a good location, insuring it, and making sure members are using tools safely. The response: another sold-out session.

Over lunch, Gui and Molly shared the most important lessons they were hoping to convey.

“People generally underestimate how much it costs,” Gui said. “For example, they think that if they can cover the rent they are home free. In fact, rent isn’t the major expense. In our case rent is just 25 percent of our overhead.”

“The amount of time it takes is also underestimated,” Molly added. “People often decide to start a makerspace so that they can work on their own projects.”

This observation struck a chord with Gui, who recently stepped down as director so he could concentrate on his projects.

“The people who run the makerspace, generally don’t get to use the makerspace,” he said ruefully.

DC Denison

DC Denison

DC Denison is the editor of The Maker Pro Newsletter, which covers the intersection of makers and business. That means hardware startups, new products, and market trends.

The former technology editor of The Boston Globe, DC is also interested in ebook experimentation and content management systems.

One of the places where DC can be found online is Google+ (which I’m adding here only because I want to see if by adding “rel=author” and “rel=me” to those two links I can get Google to display my picture in its search results.)

Hey, it works!


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Comments

  1. terrefirma says:

    I didn’t get to go but as a’ spacer seeking makers’ I can add that communication of expectation is crucial- from the beginning courtship phase to “are we really gonna do it”? My current position is that no matter who has the coolest tools or who writes the most eloquent proposal, whoever picks up a broom to ‘git er done’ first gets my vote for chairman of the board!

  2. Rob says:

    I recently helped start a 4,000 square foot makerspace in Rochester NY. The last five paragraphs should be required reading for anyone who wants to start one because they are absolutely true.

    We have a couple of people who have been volunteering 30 to 40 hours of week and they have been doing it for a very long time. That is not sustainable and they will eventually need to cut back or step down completely. We know it’s extremely unlikely we’ll be able to find volunteer replacements for them that will have ALL of the following: the necessary abilities and experience, time, and commitment.

    We’ll always be highly dependent on volunteers to hold down costs and because we’re trying to do something that is big, ambitious and complicated. But we also know that if we’re going to
    survive and achieve our goals we need to get to the point where we can afford to hire some paid employees, and we’ve developed a good business plan that we think will allow us to do that someday soon.

    BTW, I didn’t get a chance to go to this or the original workshop at Artisan’s Asylum, but Gui and Molly have given us some very helpful advice via phone and email.

  3. Rick says:

    As a quadriplegic, I have not seen much, if anything, about Maker Spaces that are handicap accessible.
    Can anyone reply on this?

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