With the launch of self-described “collaborative co-working community” The Hub in sight, the space in Homewood will become the most recent in a line of local crafting and community workshops.
Officially opening on June 4, the co-working space and offshoot of the nonprofit Common Thread (a Christian mission organization), hopes to contribute a welcoming venue and further the efforts toward community collaboration.
“The Hub is naturally a co-working space,” said Jon Lawler, director of the soon-to-be public workspace. “The environment we have intended to create here is a practical space, where individuals — not dependent on what they do or their profession — are able to come and work and work together. What’s different for us than other co-working spaces is that we strive to create, steward and nourish relationships on a large scale.”
The 4,000-square-foot facility houses an event area, a general meeting and collaboration area, a conference room, a private sound-proofed phone booth, miniature golf course and a bocce ball court. For Lawler and his organization, this is just the start.
“The emphasis for us is how can we be in this space and do what we have to do, but not forget that we were designed to exist together? We want to invite people to come and be a part. This is our first of hopefully many mores spaces,” Lawler said.
Lawler said that future plans for The Hub include opening a space in the heart of dilapidated areas downtown, areas in need of revitalization; currently, he’s considering a 16,000-square-foot warehouse, but it will be at least six months before anything happens on that front, he said.
“We want to build, to find the poor, the hurting and the hopeless individuals in our city, who in a way have been discarded, and instill dignity into their lives,” he said. “We want to provide an opportunity for jobs here — to have people come and work with us. The vision is, as a community, to walk with the poor.”
The Hub’s focus on building relationships is not particularly novel in the realm of makerspaces and co-ops; many local (and not so local) workshops and workspaces also exhibit a community-based approach to their space. This “open-source” or public collaborative setting stemmed directly from early makers’ desires to openly share information and work together.
Making the Makers
Originally founded in Europe in the mid-to-late ’90s, makerspaces began to dot the American landscape halfway into the next decade. “Essentially you had a group of American [makers] who went to over to Europe, saw what they were doing, and said, ‘Well, this is a good thing,’” said John Rhymes, a Red Mountain Maker.
This technological pilgrimage laid the groundwork for a myriad of makerspaces to pop up throughout the country. NYC Resistor, the first North American makerspace, opened in 2007. Other makerspaces, such as NoiseBridge in San Francisco and HacDC in Washington, D.C., also made their mark during this time.
Another aspect that helped boost the maker movement was the creation of the Arduino circuit board, along with other technological advancements such as the Raspberry Pi minicomputer and 3D printing. Built in 2005, the Arduino board became the first open-source hardware product and cut down enormously on costs.
“Setting up and exploring electronics is now inexpensive because of it [the board],” said Shirley Hicks, treasurer of Red Mountain Makers and a self-taught programmer. “Electronics have become so much cheaper.”
Finally, Rhymes said, the internet did, and is still doing, wonders in spreading the maker movement across the globe. “The most important element [in the development of makerspaces] is the internet itself,” said Rhymes. Many discussion boards and online forums sprang up, and are still in use, aiding new and old D.I.Y.ers in their projects and creating an online hub for all kinds of makers.
From the headway made by internet communities like Arduino discussion forums, makerspaces, local and beyond, started to make the leap from online to in-person. “Virtual communities are out there,” said Hicks. “However, makerspaces are the physical manifestation of the programming and technical community. We all get to learn from each other.”
Better Off Red
Red Mountain Makers (RMM), the D.I.Y. technical cooperative and non-profit, embodies the archetypal original makerspace born out of the European tradition.
RMM began humbly; they first met at Urban Standard in March 2012. After months of convening in the basements of members’ houses and The Bottletree Café, they found a space in August of that year. In October, the group made their new space into a home.
“We’re like Chuck E. Cheese for engineers, digital artists and designers,” Hicks said. “We’re a place where you can explore technology and interact with it.”
The Woodlawn-based space includes a circuitry lab, Shape Lab (large workshop), metal-working lab, ceramics lab, sewing corner, biology lab, as well as meeting areas and rooms for private rental. The labs store a significant array of equipment – from sewing looms, to bandsaws, to a fair number of 3D printers.
The technological stockpile is only the tip of the iceberg, they said.
“It [RMM] is a creative outlet. And a social one,” according to Rhymes. “So you’ve got some real interesting people. You have a chance to learn things without having to get into a real structured environment. [The best part of RMM] is the collection of people, the diversity of personalities, interests and skills. It’s that cross-pollination of ideas.”
Miriam Omura, a fellow RMM member and weaver, agrees. “I like the group of people here,” she said. “The diversity and background people have. It makes problem solving more interesting because you think of things in different ways and you are introduced to different approaches.”
Omura’s gravitation towards weaving came from an elective she took in art school. Ever since, weaving has become a passion, something she now shares with fellow members of the collective. “I don’t do much tech stuff,” said Omura. “But, there was a pull to come here to help people learn how to use the looms they [RMM] had got and I got interested in some of the tech side of things. Like 3D printers and LED lights.”
In the future, Omura wants to experiment with conductive threading, or winding stainless steel into a very fine thread, which will allow for lights or electronics to be worn in clothing. This will enable her to blend both the artistic and technical sides of making. “Being able to weave your own cloth allows you more control on how that conductive thread will go through your piece of fabric,” Omura said. “It just gives you another level of control when working with your fabric.”
Omura illustrates a point: not all creatives have technical skills and some are not even technologically-inclined. Many local makers tinker with fine art prints or sculptures, not techno toys or circuit boards.
The Art That Sets Them Apart
Nestled along the quaint corridor of Clairmont Avenue, PaperWorkers Local is an artist co-op founded in June 2013 that specializes in original handmade prints and displays many of the same D.I.Y. characteristics of other makerspaces, although with its own artistic flare.
Michael Merry, co-founder of PaperWorkers Local along with Mimi Boston, received his Master of Fine Arts degree from a college near Philadelphia. During his stay up north, Merry visited a number of artist co-ops, and he was surprised not to find the like when he returned home.
“I didn’t understand why Birmingham didn’t have anything like this [PaperWorkers Local],” Merry said. “And that was the inspiration – things were available in Philadelphia. I just couldn’t see any reason why Birmingham would not have something like this, as easy as it is to do.”
In addition to the space and printing equipment, PaperWorkers also holds monthly exhibitions for artists, sometimes at the Clairmont Ave. location and other times around the city and state. For Merry and Boston, this helps fulfill the mission of PaperWorkers and assists in making Birmingham an up-and-coming artist destination.
“We want to give artists a space to show and a forum for talking about their work,” Merry said. “This is a place where you can come to and meet like-minded people. We are a locus, a community, a place to come and talk about art, which can sometimes be difficult, especially in Birmingham.”
Second Avenue’s Space One Eleven, similar to PaperWorkers, exhibits Birmingham artists’ work in their space. Unlike PaperWorkers, the visual arts venue almost exclusively acts as exhibition space. The space offers art classes for children and adults, but most of the creating occurs off-site – at least for now.
Established in 1986, Space One Eleven is most known for its galleries and window displays, which highlight a diverse range of artwork on themes as diverse as war, sex, politics, race and religion.
For Peter Prinz, CEO and co-founder of the nonprofit, Space One Eleven came about as a way to fulfill a need in the community – one he believes persists. “We were founded out of cultural isolation and a need for seeing art from elsewhere,” Prinz said. “We didn’t always have the means to go out, so we invited artists to come into Birmingham and share with our artists.
“Our mission has always been the same,” he added. “We support artists through teaching positions and by paying them to exhibit in our galleries. There’s still a need to provide a venue for artists, to give them a voice, to give them a way for expressing their message.”
Sometime in late summer, Space One Eleven plans to start an “open studio,” officially called The Clay Studio, next door to the exhibition galleries that will act as “a safe place to fail” for local artists. In this new space, artists will be able to collaborate, experiment and create through their craft.
As for The Hub, like many local workspaces and co-ops, its mission looks toward the community for guidance and success, according to Lawler, who said that participants in The Hub’s community are not members, but “collaborators.”
“We desire to be that space that just invites people in,” Lawler said. “We think that there’s a lot that can come from that. We don’t care about our own lives. We are invested in others and the lives of the people in this city. We just decided that we aren’t important enough to just live for ourselves.”