This year I’m traveling all over the world exploring maker culture and spaces. In Make: magazine’s and the Maker movement’s spirit of open source, I’ll be sharing my adventures, stories, thoughts, and the makers I meet.
I may have just started traveling, but I’ve always been a maker and interested in engineering, design, fine art, and craft (along with their intersections, unions, and negative space). This year, I want to plumb new depths of a particular subset of those ideas: open workshops. I’m exploring spaces that facilitate people making things in a broad way– spaces like fab labs, makerspaces, workshops, studios, hackspaces, and idea foundries.
I’m most interested in seeing how spaces and structures can facilitate the making process to better create:
- Things: how can we improve our capability to innovate and make objects
- People: how can we teach/instruct/allow new skills, ideas, and practice
- Community: how can we bring people together to talk and make
I became interested in these types of questions at a young age. These questions sparked when I visited an experimental learning workshop called the Eli Whitney Museum in Connecticut, and studios, workshops, and makerspaces I visited later (when I was in college) cemented my interest. These spaces taught me a myriad of things about making and learning, and they taught me about myself. It was in these spaces that I came to understand my broad passion for making things, and I began to explore that passion’s more niche applications. These workshops gave me the space and tools to improve my artistic, engineering, and craft practice, and connected me with a community that I continue to work and live with today.
Now, thanks to the generosity of the Watson Foundation, I’m traveling the world to explore how such spaces function within, reflect, and uplift their communities. I’m excited to expand my vision of how these spaces function (beyond what I’ve seen back home in the U.S.) to all kinds of different settings and communities. I want to understand both how these spaces generally work and the complicated conversations between spaces and diverse users. I’m most interested in how they democratize and decentralize innovation, invention, and fabrication; and their crucial role in this fourth industrial revolution and beyond.
For the next three months, I’m exploring these ideas in London, where there are rich traditions of craft and industry, and almost 100 open workshops! There have been some top-down efforts to start these spaces, but for the most part, they’ve opened up organically in response to the need for affordable studios. They bring the incubator and accelerator model to making, and reinvigorate and reimagine the craft and industry in the area.
Workshops Open to All
It’s amazing that London has so many open workshops, and that the majority opened in the past five years. I think it’s worth trying to understand why. Here’s a quick collection of links to organizations attempting to organize, catalogue, or analyze that rich influx of new spaces:
Maker Assembly is a periodic “critical gathering about maker cultures” in the UK. It’s run by a group of people who do really interesting work outside Maker Assembly too.
British Council’s Maker Libraries offers a framework for open spaces focused on learning, making, and exhibiting, and connects people and spaces in the UK with others around the world. The network has since closed, but many resources are still available online, and most individual Maker Libraries are still open.
Co:Making: Research into London’s Open Access Makerspaces and Shared Workshops is a thorough investigation by Workshop East for the London Legacy Development Corporation and the Greater London Authority, but it could be interesting to you too. It gives a very in-depth, data-driven understanding of what’s out there and what works, as well as suggesting ways to make makerspaces work better.
UK Hackspaces promotes and coordinates hackspaces around the UK. It’s a good site to check out if you’re looking for a hackspace in your area.
Open Workshop Network facilitates conversation between open workshops, and also has a handy map with over 40 London Workshops that anyone can access. It’s a good resource if you’re looking for open workshops in London.
If I were only interested in theory and research, I might not even have to travel to these spaces. But my goal is to go beyond reading what has already been written, and to engage workshops and makers personally. I’m visiting all kinds of these spaces, talking with the people who use and support them, and trying to understand what brought people there and where they’re going. While I’m certainly interested in the larger questions surrounding these spaces, I’m going to begin by understanding them individually. To that end, I’ll be visiting a lot of workshops, working alongside their users on some projects, and talking to people to try to transcend data-driven analyses of this movement with people’s faces and stories. I’ll continue to post thoughts and stories about the spaces, makers, and ideas I encounter, so keep checking the Make: blog for updates!
An artist, engineer, and researcher, Liam makes all kinds of things, including public policy, fine art, electric motorcycles, and computational models. His passion for making is rivaled only by his dedication to ensuring other people have the resources they need to make, too. In that vein, as a 2017 Watson Fellow he's exploring how open workshops democratize and decentralize education, innovation, and industry to make better things, people, and communities.View more articles by Liam Grace-Flood