Coming together for the love of artistic creation

PETERBOROUGH: What is the makerspace movement — and how could it help the Monadnock region’s already-thriving arts community?

  • Jane E. Simpson, one of the three artists that make up 3 Main Street in Peterborough, works on a mirror framing at the 30 Main studio.
  • Jane E. Simpson, one of the three artists that make up 3 Main Street in Peterborough, works on a mirror framing at the 30 Main studio.
  • Jane E. Simpson, one of the three artists that make up 3 Main Street in Peterborough, works on a mirror framing at the 30 Main studio.
  • Jane E. Simpson, one of the three artists that make up 3 Main Street in Peterborough, works on a mirror framing at the 30 Main studio.

Let’s talk about makerspaces.

Makerspaces are a relatively new concept, but it’s one that may be gaining traction in Peterborough. The concept of a local makerspace has come up recently in Peterborough’s Master Plan sessions, as part of the Vision Forum, and is the subject of the upcoming Community Conversations, hosted by the Monadnock Center for History and Culture in partnership with the Ledger-Transcript.

What is a makerspace?

Makerspace is a flexible concept. At its core, it is a community space that gives residents access to tools and technology they might not otherwise be able to afford — for example, laser cutters or 3D printing technology. People pay a membership fee to get access to the space and equipment. What the focus of an individual makerspace might be, and the kinds of equipment available there, are up to the needs and means of the community that supports it. But what would one in Peterborough look like? Visual artist Rachelle Beaudoin of Peterborough is one of a handful of volunteers who are trying to answer that question.

The organizers

Beaudoin and Jeanne Dietsch, also of Peterborough, have been starting the effort to gather information about the needs of the community when it comes to a potential makerspace in Peterborough. The first order of business, said Beaudoin, is whether there is room for one at all in the town of Peterborough. Nashua already supports a makerspace, called MakeIt Labs, which has a focus on automotive and engineering. There has also been interest in establishing one in the Keene area, she added. Makerspaces can be operated as a for-profit business or as a nonprofit, but either way they will need enough members regularly using the space and attending workshops to generate income to make the space sustainable.

“I think one of the biggest questions for this is: Do we have enough interested and would it thrive here?” said Beaudoin. So, the first step is to educate the local public about what exactly a makerspace is, and what one could offer. The second is to find out what kind of space would fit in in Peterborough. Though she and Dietsch are still information gathering on that point, an arts-focused makerspace has been getting some buzz, Beaudoin noted.

“There has been a definite interest in more adult education, art and manufacturing. It does seem like this would have some audience, for sure,” she said.

Dietsch, who has been coordinating a community survey that will be available online following the May 13 Community Conversations on makerspaces, said that whatever direction a makerspace for Peterborough moves in, there is inherent value in the concept of a creative community space.

“There’s a big social piece to this,” said Dietsch. “[Makerspaces] are designed to create an intellectual spillover of knowledge and mentoring and motivation.”

What it could look like

On May 13, Adam Shrey, one of the directors of the makerspace located in Nashua will be joining the Community Conversation to discuss how MakeIt Labs operates.

MakeIt Labs started four years ago in Lowell, Mass., as a for-profit business. But it quickly outgrew the space it was allotted, said Shrey.

“Almost instantly, it was too small,” he said. “There were people trying to weld, and they would be right next to someone trying to sit with a computer.”

Within a year, MakeIt Labs made a move to a bigger space in the city of Nashua. At the same time, it became a nonprofit with a board of directors. Backed by School Factory, a nonprofit that creates value-creating communities and spaces for education, MakeIt Labs moved into a larger space where its members could indulge in more complex projects. The first few years, said Shrey, the makerspace needed the support, but now, after only four years in operations, it mostly sustains itself on membership and workshop fees.

There are two levels of membership for MakeIt Labs — “Pro,” which costs $75 per month, and “Hobbyist” which costs $40. Both levels are given access to the same equipment, but the higher level member level gets a lower cost on workshops, more time on some machines, and the option to rent a section of space in order to work on a larger project. “Pros” are also given access to the equipment 24 hours a day, where lower-level members have time restrictions.

The operation has grown exponentially since it left Lowell, said Shrey, going from a membership of 10 to 15 to one that usually falls within the 55 to 65 range.

Potential users

James Mitschmyer, a Peterborough ceramics artist, has had access to a makerspace previously. While attending UMass Dartmouth, Mitschmyer had access to the Makerslab in Providence, R.I., which is a multifaceted facility that had materials for everything from printmaking to live performance. Among the tools available to him there were a laser cutter and 3D printer.

“I experimented a lot, looking at the traditional craft processes and at the interface of technology,” Mitschmyer said in an interview Monday. “In a craft world, there can almost be a push against technology and preserving that tradition, but I think there’s a space for technology and contemporary craft. I continue to be interested in it.”

Mitschmyer said he was sure that there would be an interest in technology such as CNC routers (a computer controlled cutting machine), laser cutters, 3D printers or plot cutters. Sometimes access to that technology leads to a lot of bad design, he admitted, but it could also be an amazing opportunity, especially for young members. “I think it would benefit the people interested in art and craft, but having that technology accessible to students would be amazing. It’s the direction where creativity is heading, this synergy between craft and science.”

Soosen Dunholter, a Peterborough printmaker, who has to travel to Manchester to access the printing facilities she needs for her work, said she would love to see a printmaking community grow in a local makerspace. Community is a big part of the printmaking process, she said, and having one available to you feeds the artistic temperament. And, she added, she would be just as interested in the learning opportunities offered by technology that she wouldn’t be able to afford on her own, particularly a laser cutter.

“I always want to try new technology and ways of creating,” she said. “I would definitely use the services of one of those places.”

Jane E. Simpson, one of three Peterborough artists and businesswomen that make up the 30 Main Street studio in Peterborough, said that in her experience, collaborating with community space and minds has only been a good thing. “Anytime you’re exposed to new ideas, it grows your art,” said Simpson. “It adds to your inner vocabulary and toolbox.” Simpson, who shares the space at 30 Main Street with fellow artists Erin Sweeney and Margaret Baker, said the three are constantly collaborating and sharing materials in very small ways. Stretching that out exponentially, she could see the benefits of what a makerspace could be, she said. Not to mention the possibilities that are offered when there is equipment that could not be afforded otherwise, she said.

“Sometimes as an artist, you have to sort of stop yourself, because you have certain limits in terms of your equipment or materials. Knowing I had access to something like [a makerspace], the possibility for creation is limitless.”

Both Simpson and Dunholter said that a makerspace doesn’t have to only include the really expensive equipment to be valuable, either. There are a lot of woodworkers and craftsmen that would benefit from access to small tools, and even something as small as a sewing machine could have value for a lot of people in the area.

“I imagine it would be in great demand,” said Simpson, “just thinking of the amount of artists and the variety of things they do in the area.”

The Community Conversation on “Makerspaces: What Are They and What Can They Do for Our Community?” will be held at Bass Hall in the Monadnock Center for History and Culture on Tuesday, May 13 at 7 p.m.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ex. 244, or She’s on Twitter @AshleySaari.

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