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What Makes a Makerspace?

At the Third Quarter Makerspace Makers Meetup (M3) this summer, there was a great round of discussion on attracting and maintaining members. David Norris, from  Cyberia Makerspace in Indianapolis commented that they see members drawn for some combination of three reasons –  classes, tools  and/or community.  Nods quickly rippled through the room.

On the drive home, we were sure that he was actually on to something deeper, and there has been a lot of discussion inside the Indiana Makers staff on this topic.

Within the broader maker community, there has been a lot of discussion about what qualifies as a makerspace and what does not.  Most often, the discussion flows to examples and anecdotes of things we think are NOT makerspaces.  We have gotten good at defining the negative space around the makerspace concept, but not so good at clearly defining what a makerspace IS.

David’s comment spurred us to posit a potential inclusive definition of a makerspace. Indiana Makers welcomes thought, feedback and refinement from the rest of the maker community.   This model will also be a discussion at the Fourth Quarter M3 on October 7, with the hope of coming to a consensus within the  Indiana Maker community.  This has also been reflected up to NOM for their comments and thoughts.  If you have an interest in makerspaces, we hope to see your thoughts and comments in the discussion below.

Definition of a Makerspace: 

A Makerspace is defined by the existence of the three core pillars: Makery, Community and Knowledge.    Pillarsvg

Makery is the physical space where the makerspace exists and all of the tools and equipment inside of it.  The space does not have to be permanent, but should have some defined boundaries at the time it exists. The space should have open access within a defined group. This group may be( but is not limited to) a class, a school, a company, a member community or the general public.  Within the group, there should not be restrictions by role that limit the open accessibility.  For example, a makery in a company that limits access only to R&D staff is an R&D lab, not a makerspace.  However, a makery in a company that is open to all company members ( or all full time members) , regardless of job class fulfills this pillar.   In addition, the makery is not bounded by time- it might be a permanent structure, it might exist only during the school year, or it might exist only for a few hours one evening.

Community is a critical defining factor in a makerspace.  A makery without community is a rental machine shop of sorts. Those spaces are important players in the manufacturing and business economy, but are not makerspaces.  Although the community in a makerspace is actually the live, breathing people who relate to one another around and/or in the makery, we believe it can be measured.  A makerspace that has a community will have two things- the capacity to support ad hoc social interactions  and scheduled community events that are disruptive to making activities.  Support for ad hoc interactions may be as simple two stools in a corner,or as complex as full living room type settings.  These are the spaces where community members spontaneously gather- to share stories, to explain things, to tell jokes or to commiserate/celebrate failed experiments ( just as examples).  We are specific in defining the scheduled community events as disruptive to making activities because these are the events that bring together members who do not know each other or have not met, as well as cementing the relationships between community members who already know each other.  Examples of this type of event might be cookouts, show and tells, movie nights or gaming sessions.

Knowledge sharing allows a makerspace to transmit generational knowledge, teach members new things, and is a contributor to innovation and self discovery.  Knowledge is  often defined as either a defined body ( something you can go read ) or as something ephemeral ( casual knowledge passed on during ad hoc social interactions).  Both of these are difficult to quantify and measure in a space.  However, a space that is brimming in knowledge will have classes in which the members either teach or learn new things.  These are classes that extend beyond equipment usage and training.  A makery with only equipment training is more of a technical school or a skilled trades training ground.  The classes that are found in a makerspace may be project based ( “Build a basket”, or “Make a Chair”); may be process or theory based ( “How to file a patent” would be  an example here); or may be content based ( learning a programming language or “Electronics 101”). It is important to note that skills and equipment training classes are important and will certainly be found in a makerspace, but are not a defining feature of a makerspace.

The pillars can also be visualized as a venn diagram, with the three areas overlapping to form a makerspace in the center. At this overlap, artifacts of some sort can be produced.


Although interesting things and organizations exist in the other parts of the venn diagram, we would argue that these are not makerspaces.

We look forward to thoughts and comments from the maker community as this definition is further refined.

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Maker Events: Makevention by Bloominglabs

Makevention, hosted by Bloominglabs, is one of Indiana’s best regional maker fair events.  Completely free for attendees, it brings together academic breakthroughs and engineering, startups, games, and learning experiences for the whole family.

If you have never been, reserve the time at the end of August next year to take the whole family.

If your space is considering hosting a maker show and tell event, we recommend that you visit or talk with the folks at Bloominglabs for tips and tricks on how to succeed.

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Meet the Makers- MakerHive

20170817_193646The MakerHive is a Makerspace in Elkhart Indiana.  They started life as Make: Goshen back in late 2009/early 2010  and have survived and thrived through name and location changes.



The space is overflowing with 3D printing experts and 3D printers. 20170817_193700

Member have helped to run the Midwest RepRap fest for a number of years, and the founders of SeemeCNC are members as well.

20170817_193710  On an open night, members gather together, working on small projects, talking about ideas and collaborating on projects.  20170817_19371620170817_193724


Every corner of their space, which exists on the second floor of the founder’s business is crammed with making capacity.  But as in every successful makerspace we have visited so far, there is always room for some fun and a quirky personality. 20170817_19373020170817_194033






Collaborations in the space happened fluidly, with knowledge sharing a high priority.


Members in the  space also create and sell add ons and third party parts for SeeMeCNC 3D printers as an online business.  Some of the proceeds of this are donated back to the Makerspace to help fund new ventures and activities.20170817_200553


Although their space is currently a little tight, they are excited to be partnering with the Ethos Science/STEM center and will soon have a new Maker home inside that facility.  We look forward to visiting them again in the spring, once their move is complete. 20170817_193642

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Meet the Makers: Inventors Forge in St Louis.

20170812_145249 We had the pleasure of visiting the folks at Inventors Forge in St Louis recently.

They started the makerspace in this ex-retail space, with a growing group who is passionate about making.  Size constraints of the space did not slow them down- with a cooperative landlord, they haul the table saw out into the parking lot when they need to use it here. 20170812_145251 They have well equipped workstations for electronics, laser cutting, 3D printing and woodburning  that are obviously well used. 20170812_14525820170812_145311






Social Spaces are an important feature in any makerspace and they have successfully incorporated a nice discussion/snack nook into this space.

There is evidence of their quirky sense of humor and some fun found in many little details in the space.







20170812_145343Storage is efficient, and closet space is well used at Inventors Forge.  They also added some walls in the space and created a great classroom space that easily works for 12-16 people.  They frequently do workshops and classes in this space both for members and the public. 20170812_14535020170812_14540120170812_14552620170812_155101


They were blessed to receive a grant from the state of Missouri that allowed them to expand and add a second space inside the local business incubator.  This grant funded equipment as well as rent in this new space.  They have focused the new space on expanding large equipment, and are still in the process of bringing some equipment online. 20170812_15512720170812_15522320170812_155226

While much of the equipment here is larger, they also have a great collection of hand power tools and have added sewing machines as well, and are hoping to expand membership interested in fabric related making. 20170812_155340

Thanks again to the folks at Inventors Forge for taking time to show us around, talking about your successes and struggles and having a great vision to continue to grow the maker community.