The Makerspace in Action
by Grayson Deyoung
GR MAKERS’ function is quite telling by its title; it is a makerspace located downtown Grand Rapids that offers a place for individuals to get their hands dirty and build something.The space thrives from its 70 plus members and community centered integration. “GR Makers has always been about a sense of community and helping each other,” said cofounder Casey DuBois.
Before GR Makers occupied its current 8,500 square foot space and contained hundreds of thousands of dollars of equipment, it was a simple weekly meeting.Every Wednesday night,a group of handy individuals would meet at DuBois’s house to “play around” with some of their projects. “That’s all it was. It was people getting together on Wednesday nights tinkering,” said cofounder Mark Van Holstyn. After consistent meetings, the dedicated craftsmen realized they were a growing community in need; they required more space, time, and equipment.Thus, GR Makers grew from DuBois’s home into the expanding maker space that it currently is.
Van Holstyn described the current state of GR Makers as,“a community workshop that creates a space for people to come make, build, and do whatever they want to do.” More specifically, GR Makers offers a large space, and a wide variety of tools, resources, and educational classes available for members, and specific events that are open to the public.
One of the most notable aspects of GR Makers is that they’re boasting an evergrowing inventory of tools. Van Holstyn said, “When we started out, we mostly had woodworking equipment and a couple of welding things.” Now, however, the list includes everything from 3D printers to laser cutters to jewelry making tools.
The availability of the tools offers members a unique opportunity to constantly create without restricted access.Thus, designing is based on the individual member’s agenda and creative freedom. However,Vice President of Mutually Human, Samuel Bowles, said that GR Makers and their community has its own unique approach to design and design problems.
“Through the process of getting your hands dirty and getting involved in the act of creation, we find the answers to many of the questions that we struggle with,” said Bowles. So the processes highly stressed within the walls of GR Makers are simply making and doing. Bowles especially emphasized the importance of moving from ideating into prototyping. For him, designers can get lost in the infinite possibilities of ideating when they could learn more by doing. Bowles explained,“I will always have to do the thinking by making.The earlier I do it, the less waste will be involved.” GR Makers gives designers the resources to spend less time planning by designing their ideas through action.
Both Van Holstyn and DuBois are also proud of GR Makers’ diverse membership. Currently, members range from high school students to young adults in college to the retired. Makers also consists of 30 percent female members, further indicating the space’s reach to be a more inclusive and diverse community. Another area of pride for GR Makers is located in its membership interaction. Outside of the tools, members use each other as resources. Even though each member comes with a particular set of skills, projects often go beyond a member’s specific discipline.Van Holstyn said,“With our space, [members] are able to lean on the community and the resources that are here for the things they are not necessarily good at.”
An example of this community oriented collaboration is the four story tall ArtPrize entry, “Exposed,” found in the UICA. The art piece, a brainchild of six GR Makers members, is an obvious display of innovative team work. The multimedia installation includes electrical and mechanical engineering, design, welding, and computer programming.With the resources of the makerspace and the diverse set of skills of each individual member, “Exposed” is a testament to GR Makers community drive work rooms. Beyond the ArtPrize installation, members also use each other as sounding boards and tools of inspiration. DuBois said that the older generation of members rethink their own processes when looking towards the younger members’ iterative use of innovation and design thinking.
Outside of the space and its members, the founders spend a lot of time working in the Grand Rapids community and educational sector. GR Makers itself offers a slew of educational classes and training for all ages.These specialized workshops are divided into two sections: Safety Training and Skills Training. Again, in order to meet the needs of as many as possible, these workshops range from video game creation to 3D printing.
In addition to classes, they teamed up with Southwest Community Campus and Camp Fire to create a summer maker camp for younger children. One large project they focused on was deconstructing computers, and then putting them back together. DuBois said, “[The students] had a computer and they took it apart, and then put it back together in one day. And the next day, they were using it and were able to take that home.” GR Makers also works with Rays of Hope, Cook Library, and Pinewood Elementary schools to continue providing educational opportunities. The future of GR Makers hinges on the continued opportunity to evolve and expand.Van Holstyn said,“We want to keep building the set of tools and set of resources that we have, so no matter what is someone is trying to do, we can offer those resources for them to do it.”