Alex MW Morrison
What is your day job?
I’m a freelance Maker Educator and Collaborative Learning Consultant in Austin. In my role here, I collaborate with different types of learning institutions here in Austin to identify the parts of their educational programs that might need a little boost, and then work with their team to develop hands-on making curriculum, programs, or professional development for their facilitators. The best part of this job is that everyday I get to learn something new from someone else, to experience people’s enthusiasm or apprehensions, and to encourage people to take risks and grow just by making with our hands!
Do you attend a makerspace/fablab/hackerspace?
I regularly use Co.Lab Community Makers in Austin, and I currently serve on their advisory panel to provide inclusive feedback for the queer community, and well as women, nonbinary, and trans makers. I also co-run an arts collective and skill-sharing exchange community solely for women and non-binary makers in Austin, called HIVE Arts Collective, which we run out of our studio space at the Museum of Human Achievement. I’ve used other makerspaces in the past, but I value these two spaces the most for the priority that they place on inclusivity, active listening, and community. It’s a personal mission of mine, a commitment that I make in my personal and professional life, and for me its vital to have a space that shares that as a foundation.
What kinds of stuff do you make?
Firstly, I make curriculum about making! I work with different institutions from small spaces like Austin Tinkering School, museums like UMLAUF Sculpture Garden or the Texas History Museum, nonprofits like MathHappens or PrintAustin, and other spaces to develop curriculum for their institutions with a focus on process-based making and learning. I create activities and lessons that focus on multidisciplinary (STEAM), open-ended making to really engage audiences of all ages.
While I sometimes facilitate these activities, most of my making is prototyping activities and then writing curriculum. So one day I might be learning how to make terra cotta clay from scratch, another I might be experimenting with computational aesthetics to make cool woodblock prints, or another day I could be teaching a group of educators how to use a sewing machine!
Aside from learning programs, I make ridiculous things with children in the woodworking shop at Austin Tinkering School, large format multimedia installations, woodworking and furniture projects at HIVE, and I frequently use the Glowforge lasercutter at Co.Lab to make leather gifts for friends, family, and my dog Scout.
How did you get started making stuff?
I’ve always been a lifelong learner and maker, and grew up in a family with creative thinkers who encouraged risk taking and problem solving constantly. My grandfather was a tinkerer and from a very early age had me driving nails, using a bandsaw, or riding on a lawnmover through his yard (and one time through his fence). I’m also the product of an amazing mother and graphic designer, so playing around with different types of tools and materials has been a foundational skill for me that I would unknowingly end up using everyday in the future.
What is something that you’ve made that you’re really proud of?
Two personal projects, for sure! For NMASS 2018, my friend Emilee Graverson and I made a small installation using conductive printmaking.
Emilee made some great large format illustrations of Texas, and then I designed small “sonic IDs” which I hooked up to a Teensy. When you touched part of the print, the sound played and the whole room was transformed! I’m also really proud of a project called SHXGR I did with my friend Lina Chambers. It was a summer camp where the kids staged and rehearsed a part of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Nights Dream, but they also had to make their own costumes with sewing machines, and use a wood shop to build a moveable set using 16th century robotics like pulleys, scissor lifts, and a moving panorama to change the scene!
What is next on your project list?
The start of this year is already very busy with projects, but I’m particularly excited about figuring out how to merge making into other aspects of learning like living history programs in museums like Pioneer Farms or touch and making tours for low sight/no sight patrons at UMLAUF Sculpture Garden + Museum. I’m also looking forward to teaching classes for women-identified and non-binary folks at Co.Lab and teaming up with Dykes with Drills this year.
what is something you’d like to work with but you haven’t yet?
Cars and Metal. This year is the year I learn to weld!
Any advice for people reading this?
1.) Trust that chaos is essential and integral to the process of making 2.) Adopt a failure positive mindset. Remember that even in that moment of failure you’re existing in a moment you’ll never get back, so just be present! 3.) When working with others, listen from your heart. Don’t listen just so you can try and formulate what you’re going to say next, but actively engage with someone- sometimes people value being seen and heard more than they need someone to tell them what they’re doing wrong.