Welcome to our first blog post! This is the first in a series of interviews with local makers, entrepreneurs, and artists.
Meet Will Holman, lifelong maker and executive director at Open Works in Baltimore. More than just a makerspace, Open Works is a creative center where anyone can build nearly anything. Read on as Will tells us all about Open Works and its exciting impact on the Baltimore community.
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WC: Tell us about how you got involved with the makerspace concept.
WH: I was hired by the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation as a research fellow in September, 2013. The foundation wanted me analyze the maker movement and begin pre-planning for a makerspace in a property that the Foundation purchased through a nonprofit development group called BARCO. After a year of research, visiting other spaces, doing community outreach, and beginning to work with an architect, I moved over to BARCO and worked for the next 2-1/2 years on business planning, architectural design oversight, construction budgeting, fundraising, community organizing, planning for equipment purchasing, getting zoning exemptions, etc. etc. – all the stuff you need to get done to build a building.
On a personal level, I have been a maker since childhood. I studied architecture in college, and did a design-build semester, which led me down a fascinating path of unusual architectural projects at Arcosanti in Arizona; the Rural Studio, in Alabama; and the Rebuild Foundation, in Chicago. Throughout that time, I have also been experimenting with furniture design, and wrote a book called Guerilla Furniture Design that came out in 2015.
WC: What role do makerspaces play in their surrounding communities?
WH: What we’ve seen with Open Works is that it is slowly developing into a neighborhood-scale anchor institution. That means a lot of things, many of which are outside the “traditional” definition of what a makerspace is and should be.
First, we are a relatively large employer, with a handful of full-time folks, a larger amount of part-time techs and receptionists, and an even larger amount of contractors that teach our classes, clean the building, do the landscaping, supply us with materials, and so on.
Second, we have stabilized and put to use a large piece of real estate that had been marginally engaged for many years.
Third, we have opened up a lot of community-engaged programming, including free youth and family workshops on Saturdays and senior maker classes in sewing and woodworking. We’ve even partnered with two local residents to launch a Sunday farmer’s market.
Fourth, we have donated a lot of space and resources to local neighborhood associations. This includes free meeting space as well as our time and labor to help renovate the community center in Greenmount West, the neighborhood we reside in.
All of these things mean educational and economic growth for our surrounding communities. We still have a lot of work to do, but the early results are encouraging.
WC: How do makerspaces encourage entrepreneurship?
WH: First and foremost, by providing low-cost access to resources. We are not an incubator in that we don’t offer investment in companies, but we do offer access to a ton of tools for a very reasonable cost.
In the late summer, Open Works will be launching a venture competition in partnership with the City of Baltimore with prizes that include both cash and membership here. We also have a partnership with the Maryland Institute College of Art that allowed recent alumni to apply for subsidized spots to launch their small business ideas or art practices. In addition, Open Works recently won a grant to launch a program in early 2018 to run an entrepreneurship academy for working mothers that includes childcare during the classes so they can free up time in their schedules. In the long-term, we are working on some programs for young people to give them the tools to succeed in small business.
WC: Tell us a little bit about Open Works.
WH: We are a 34,000 square-foot makerspace in central Baltimore whose mission is to make tools, technology, and the knowledge to use them accessible to all. We accomplish that through membership access to workshops, low-cost studio space, and a wide variety of classes for young people and adults. We have wood, metal, digital fabrication, textiles, electronics, 3D printing, and digital media workshops, as well as classrooms, a coffee shop, and 140 cubicle-sized studio spaces that you can rent month-to-month.
WC: What’s the coolest project you’ve seen in your space so far?
WH: So many! We recently became a distributed manufacturing site for Opendesk, out of London, which means we are making a lot of awesome CNC-routed furniture. Out digital operations manager, Harrison Tyler, has custom-built us a large-format 3D printer with a 1M cubic build volume. One of our members is building hundreds of Arduino-controlled networked mini-weather stations; another has fabricated a network of meteorite-tracking cameras for an amateur astronomy society. Right now, the space is hopping with projects for Artscape, Baltimore’s annual free arts festival.
WC: What will you “make” next?
WH: Personally, I am signing up for our MIG welding class so I can build a new dining table for my house. On a makerspace-wide level, I am looking forward to “making” a new generation of makers that can use this space to find success in life.
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