Local nonprofit struggles to find home in JP

January 12, 2018
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Boston Makers, a local makerspace founded and run by Jamaica Plain residents, is struggling to find permanent space to open in the neighborhood before its time is up at the Eliot School in mid-March 2018.

A makerspace is like an artists’ co-op wherein members share a rented space, but it focuses on more technology-oriented crafts and trades, such as 3-D printing, bike repair, metalworking, and sculpting.

In 2013, when the Gazette spoke with Dominic Burdick, a founder of the then-named JP Makers group, they were looking for a shared workspace. Now, while the name has changed to Boston Makers and the organization has attained 501c3 nonprofit status, the challenge of finding permanent space remains difficult.

Boston Makers has built relationships with other organizations in the community in order to share temporary space. Its first makerspace was in the basement of Hyde Square Task Force’s Cheverus building, where it stayed until April 2015. The group has also worked with CityPOP Egleston, the pop up makerspace created by City Realty, where Boston Makers was located for 16 months. They have also worked with the Eliot School, which has hosted Boston Makers in its annex space on Amory Street.

A big obstacle for Boston Makers is rental prices.

“Market rates in Boston mean that small businesses and volunteer-run organizations get very few opportunities to create a useable space and stay there,” said Emily Glaser, who handles membership and outreach at Boston Makers. “We’ve loved all the spaces that we’ve been and building these relationships, but it’s hard to find a permanent space without the beneficence of some local property owner who believes in our value to the community.”

Despite these challenges, Boston Makers is still set on finding space in Jamaica Plain.

“For the past four years we’ve existed in some form in JP, and while our name has changed from JP Makers to Boston Makers, JP is our home,” said Glaser. “We love the energy here, we love participating in events like Wake Up The Earth, and we love being close to so many like-minded organizations, like the Eliot School and Stonybrook Fine Arts.

Over the years, the group has built workstations to fit the space that has been made available to them. They have made do with 750 and 400 square feet spaces, but ideally are looking for at least 1,000 square feet with good ventilation, noise reduction for a laser cutter, and a small woodshop. Another ideal factor for Boston Makers is to have storefront space.

“When we were at CityPOP Egleston at 3201 Washington St., so many of our current members found us simply by walking past!” Glaser said. “We want somewhere that’s easy to find.”

Boston Makers was founded by Dominic Burdick, Eileen McMahon, and Darien Fortier. The board currently consists of Burdick, a software engineer and lifelong tinkerer who developed the group’s Young Makers Club that runs on Sundays; Fortier, an architectural designer who handles the website and branding; Glaser, an editor and organizer who handles outreach and membership; Nathan Yee, a university administrator who manages the finances; and Stephan Weynicz, who handles facilities. Boston Makers has also had a number of core volunteers instrumental to the organization.

Makerspaces are typically built around the local interests of the community, and JP residents have shaped a lot of the ways that the space has been used.

“It’s been really interesting to see the cross-disciplinary learning and experimenting that happens at Boston Makers,” Glaser said. “We absolutely have artists–and many of them also work in the sciences. We provide not just the space and tools for someone to explore a creative or technological idea, but host a community that’s genuinely interested in helping each other problem-solve.”

One example of how someone used the makerspace was a couple of years ago when they had a Berklee student come to a meeting to ask about how he could create a certain kind of percussion instrument that also lit up. After collaborative brainstorming, he ended up building it.

The group has also been running a Young Makers Club on weekend mornings that gives kids age 12 and up a chance to learn programming languages, play with Raspberry Pi and Arduino microcontrollers, and create physical objects like fidget spinners.

“As Boston Makers grows our membership base and has more equipment to use, we are developing more classes and events so that people can learn practical skills, like how the electronics inside your lamp work or how to patch your clothing, and also learn how to use computer-aided design software or how to set up an Etsy shop to sell the things you’ve designed,” Glaser said. “These are all ideas that our members have brought forth and helped us develop.”

There are currently around 30 members of the makerspace. Funding for Boston Makers currently comes from memberships, donations, and grants. A monthly membership is $25 a month for an individual. Last year Boston Makers received an Opportunity Grant from the City of Boston. The group has also received equipment donations, such as a laser cutter donated by The Fab Foundation, and other supplies, like an inkjet printer and fabric supply from people in the neighborhood.

In order to gain access to the space, residents are required to become members, unless they are participating in the Young Makers Club. Members get access to all tools, including laser cutting, 3D printers, computers, smoldering and electronics kits, and sewing machines. The space also keeps a range of consumable materials available such as cardboard, plywood, fabric, and yarn, but encourage members to bring in their own materials and equipment.

The group also hosts social events like open houses in order to get to know other members and invite residents to see what the space has to offer.

For more information about Boston Makers, visit bostonmakers.org.

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