Name: Jo Darrington
City: Beijing, China
Makerspace: We created a queer and feminist community makerspace in Beijing called Q-Space where we live and work together to share knowledge and skills to make anything relating to the promotion of diversity.
Day job: I work as an educator. I mostly work in experiential education, language teaching, and creative education. I am also a bit of an entrepreneur I suppose, and always have far too many ideas, including small educational projects, business ideas, and maker and research projects.
How did you get started making?
I suppose I got started making when I was younger and liked making innovative gift ideas instead of buying things. I made things like a recycled gumball machine that would spit out cool quotes stuck onto marbles, bracelets made out of collected “trash,” and card holders and wallets made out aluminum cans and ironed plastic bags I found from bins! I also enjoyed making home-made chili sauces and liqueurs from fruit found in the wild or discarded in markets. Once, when I lived in a small English seaside town, I made a lot of vegan versions of Asian food (cold spicy noodles, sushi, zongzi – banana leaf wrapped in savory sticky rice) and sold them in a pop-up restaurant on the quiet seaside boulevard. I used an ironing board as my stand and a plastic camping table as the restaurant table. It wasn’t until two years ago (when I moved to Beijing) that I met my friend Zimmer and he introduced me to the maker movement.
What type of maker would you classify yourself as?
I’m not really sure what kinds of makers there are. I’d like to be a social activist maker if that exists? I like to think of ways that making can create momentum in social movements.
What was your favorite thing that you’ve made?
My favourite thing that I have made is The Rainbow Ride, a hot pink and rainbow-covered storytelling vehicle. It is fun, comfy, an art installation, and a method of transport. People participate by reading the stories others have written and then writing their own and hanging them on the ride. Contact Theory shows that the more contact someone has with people who are different to them, the more open and accepting they are. So the idea is that by reading the journeys of others, we consider, appreciate, and celebrate the diversity of our community. So far, I have collected more than 50 stories, poems, pieces of life advice, love letters, and drawings from two art exhibitions and LGBTQ+ gatherings.
What is something you’d like to make next?
I’d like to develop the Rainbow Ride further so that we can have a shared online platform of diverse stories from all over! I want to use it for pop-up film screenings, sharing food and drink, performance art pieces, giving “rainbow tours” of the city, documenting a journey collecting stories in different places, and building other rainbow rides in other places around the world! I’d also love to explore ways for the maker movement to be available to more people, as diverse groups make smarter groups, and it would be great to have a wider range of people participating in shaping our future.
And…I really want to make delicious vegan cheese!
Do you have advice to give to other makers?
My friend Zimmer had a saying, which I love and often use when describing our space: “What would the world look like if everyone had equal access to the tools and resources to create whatever they wanted?” I often wonder about this. What experiences have people had that shape the problems they see, and therefore the solutions they came up with? We live in an unequal world and what I love about the maker movement is its commitment to collaboration rather than competition. I would say to other makers, if they have the opportunities to make, then share this privilege. To new makers, take the leap, because we probably need you!
What is the Q-space?
Q-Space is a grassroots queer and feminist community maker space dedicated to making social change. We are a group of people living together and who open up our space to people wanting to learn, connect, and create. We are open to all and there is no pressure on how people want to identify themselves. We are a movement focused on human evolution! It is focused on sharing and learning, and we organize a wide range of events, such as language corners, LGBTQ+ and feminist film screenings, discussion and theatre workshops, community BBQs on our rooftop, outside parties, life drawing, art exhibitions, tech workshops, and personal development. Anything that anyone wants to share really!
Why is this so important within your local community?
I think that we are unique in our local community as our focus is on learning and sharing. We are also a home and so it is a comfortable, safe space for people to come by and get involved or chat. Many people have said that being part of this community has changed their lives in Beijing, and given them a sense of belonging. People also really enjoy being able to play and be creative, something that is all too often missing in modern life in a city. It’s a rewarding and empowering experience.
What kind of reactions have you had from your members?
Many people are surprised that we exist in Beijing. I’m not sure how many other queer and feminist community maker spaces there are elsewhere (please get in touch if you know of any!) so people have walked in and been impressed by the magic that they feel here. Many people feel that it is a home, and we call ourselves a family that’s committed to growing as a community.
What do you hope to achieve in the future?
Well, thinking big…perhaps more Q-Spaces around the world. I’d like to have one in the mountains somewhere where we could have retreats for activists and share tools for creative projects focused on empowering disadvantaged or oppressed groups. A beautiful late friend gave me advice once, “Do what you love and what you love will change the world.” I hope in the future we can facilitate the space for anyone to do just that.
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