I attend a mid-November open makers night, and promptly set up my RepRap vaguely close to the rest of the 3D Printing. My Rube-Goldberg toolchain takes 90 minutes to set up, and my frame is out of alignment from being jostled too much on the road. What really does it all in is a WiFi crash; my printer halts immediately, though only the smell of something burning causes me to check on it. It is, in fact, the smell of burning coffee from the custom roaster another maker has set up, but my print head is also stalled, so good catch?
The network issue doesn’t take too long to resolve, but by then I’m knee-deep into being told all the details of the coffee project. I check in on the other 3D Printers; I don’t think anyone ends up making a complete print that night. The Ultimaker lost adhesion and only made a short piece of its intended bicycle model. A giant gear printing out on the Rostock just never quite takes, despite several tries. The laser is busier, to the amusement of its users. The Foam Cutter is much discussed, with the numerous tongue-and-groove sculptures set all about, but ultimately stays idle.
I get a broader tour of the space, the metal shop has a brand-new TORMAC CNC, very nice; the welding tools include a dispenser full of Slim Jims and fruit snacks. The wood shop has a ShopBot CNC, 4×8, very decent size, with a big router as the cutting head, as well as a SawStop table saw, a slightly type that mangles itself in a slightly different way than the one I saw in Minneapolis.
About 30 or 40 people made it to the open house, though far fewer avail themselves of the fajita bar. There’s a definite social structure to navigate; it’s a challenging place to be an introvert. Fatefully, I manage to miss which ones, if any, were on the board of directors, which met shortly before the open house. I also miss the studio artist, that would have been a fascinating chat, I’m sure.
As the people making things fade away to discussions, one member darts in and out, doing Uber runs between sips of coffee. A lot of chatter is dismissive of the smell of roasted coffee, disinterested in its tech or creativity, or perhaps, already sick of this shtick, guaranteed to return December 12 for a full-day class. Perhaps it will be better ventilated then?
The older folks are more ecumenical; one is torn between a passion for iron pouring and the need to go to the steampunk con, only on this weekend. This being Kansas, of course it is called the Emerald City Steampunk Expo. (Not to be confused with the Comicon in Seattle). Another member has decent expertise with electronics and a fair bit of medical insight as well. Still other older makers manage shop areas at the space, but also work at Wichita State, and have an early bedtime.
There is almost no beer; what little there was disappears with the early departures. No one is drinking pop; at 3 for a dollar it’s cheap, but there’s no change (tuck whole dollars only into an envelope). The Coffee Roasters are sipping, sampling, and poking fingers covered with wet, fresh-pressed coffee grounds, into their brew water, and pouring liquids between each other’s cups at temperatures perilously below 60 C. The drinking water supply here is a few litres left at the bottom of a stand-up water cooler, no cups resting next to it. The sole source of tap water is the bathroom sink; the kitchen might get one in the remodel.
MakeICT has a particular kind of artistic flair not seen in the industrialist shops I’ve visited. Prior to getting its current glass studiofront on Douglas Avenue, it was based out of an artist collective. Its upgrade to its current digs, just this past April, was facilitated by the patronage of foundations that you’d see listed on the handbill for the orchestra concert. Mind you, there is not much of a sign of musical nexus – there is no fancy sound system, no one’s hands shot up when a member put out an emergency call for an iPod to test some charger gizmo. There’s no pop-up recording booth done in pink foam. For what it’s worth, there is an old electric organ sitting in the corner off in the games room. The art at MakeICT is mainly visual. There are paintings (one artist sells spacey prints for $10 a pop), crafts and clothing design, as the studio artist seems keen on, kitschy signage, and sculpture, mainly foam, though there is plenty of talk of PLA Lost Wax Casting. One wall is done up in empty frames, a tandem bike leaned against the wall, suggesting an unfinished, collaborative project. The all-glass storefront for the space is punctuated by dozens of Post-It Note pixels forming the name MakeICT.
You might expect some bohemian laxity in welcoming new participants, but in practical terms, it is not easy to get started here..
One of the main pages on the website invites you to visit events at the space. I try going to a laser cutting class. Turns out, you need to register. But also, to use the laser, you need to be a member. Now if this is a members-only event, why wasn’t this mentioned on the site? Looking again, carefully – on first inspection one may not note how the public events have PUBLIC typed in the event title. Just read between the lines about the others.
Nominally, membership is $25 a month. The website is set up to be very efficient in getting your cash fast. It’s vague on the important details of actually using this membership. Accessing the space depends on others being there already [if any are there at all today], or you getting your key. Keys are only handed out once a month, a big production where half of the board members show up to personally meet you, sign off, and then you physically grind a key out. If it happens to be the middle of the month when you start the process, you will be out at least $50 before you actually get to use the space, and woe betides you if you are otherwise engaged that lone and critical Monday night.
A system like this does not arise by accident, of course. Clearly, my problems are meant to be a feature, not a bug. There is more than one type of space; there exists a continuum of philosophies running from the wide-open, freewheeling Noisebridges, to the plainly functional co-working spaces for fully-vetted community members, like NYC Resistor. MakeICT doesn’t advertise it’s in the latter camp, but a few changes to its website would ease the confusion.
MakeICT is a boon for the curious and creative, uniquely strong among spaces in food, drink, art, and sculpture. Floating on a wave of public attention and funding, the space has been making ambitious development goals. Buoyed by grants and a deep membership bench of about 150, it does not want for funds as much as it recently did, but it is still rather time-poor; even on a Friday night when its Uptown neighbourhood bustles, it lays empty and silent, awaiting a bit more volunteering to square away little things like how the welding area needs a curtain. But the artist spaces have been freshly cleaned, and two of the three are still waiting to be used. There is plenty of room to grow.