For the past four years, I've been part a group of tinkerers working with the Ecsite organization to create a pop-up makerspace for the annual conference of museum and science center professionals. Last year we were lucky to have an established fablab to host our makerspace at MUSE in Trento, Italy. But this year, I think it felt even more special to create a environment for making and tinkering from scratch in an generic conference room. A big goal of the makerspace at Ecsite is to encourage others to try our these ideas back home and I think that it's a important message to send that a makerspace can be anywhere, as long as educators and designers are deliberate in their intentions for creating an environment for learning. Here are a few of the elements that we thought about as we worked on the space:
Starting out with a blank conference room, we divided the space into a workshop area with really nice large circular tables and a presentation area in the front of the room. We created space for about forty people to be working at any given time which was the number we felt that our materials and facilitation could support. We packed several art pieces made by Nicole related to the activities that we'd planned for the upcoming three days and arranged them on the door as a welcoming installation. Much like some of the large scale artwork in the tinkering studio, we hoped that this initial display would give a connection to activities we'd be running and get people curious about what might happen in the space.
The team from Science Center Netzwerk, especially Felix and Alexandra, did an amazing job collecting lots of materials that we requested beforehand. We started by laying out everything on the back tables to take inventory and then organized the workshop materials by activity so it would be easier to run multiple sessions during each day.
Happylab, an amazing fablab based in Vienna, volunteered to bring a bunch of digital tools and well as friendly wooden work benches. It was so valuable to not only have approachable and fun looking stations for the tools scattered around the room, but also a facilitator, Andreas, who introduced the tools and helped others get started. Without this personal connection, I think the fab tools would have just been technological window dressing and wouldn't have had the same impact on the participants.
Another thing that I really liked is that we gave opportunities for conference participants to contribute to the environment in various ways. For example, Jochen and I wrote an article in Spokes asking for conference-goers to bring electro-mechanical toys to the conference for the dissection and reanimation, so it was fun to see Meriem and others drop off stuffed animals to add to the collection. Part of a makerspace is allowing for unexpected and whimsical installations like these used umbrellas that Jochen and Britta set up to create a different area for conversations in their 'spaces for becoming' session. This kind of personalization helped to make an environment a unique reflection of the people setting up and living in the space.
We created intentional opportunities for us and participants to share a history of the projects made in the space. We started by hanging up the toy dissection drawings after the workshop on the afternoon of the first day. As we kept accumulating objects and artifacts made in the space, we arranged them around the room and created small signs explaining the projects to newcomers to the space and valuing the contributions.
As the projects became more complex and personally meaningful over the course of the workshops, Sebastian and I wanted to document them as well as give participants the chance to take nice photos of their creations. So we set up a table off to the side of the room as a clean background for capturing what people made. Another important consideration for the space is having tools available and accessible. We had some funny interactions like when Ian wanted to 3D print a bow-tie for the gala ball, but it was also really nice to have soldering irons and hot glue guns available for prepping activities and making examples. For me, a sign of success for the makerspace is that it's a place where people feel comfortable learning to use a new tool and can take advantage of the resources to accomplish their own goals and ideas.
I was happy to see that this pop-up makerspace offered opportunities for different modes of engagement. Walking around a room during a busy hands-on session, one could see makers intensely focused on their projects, conference goers and facilitators standing back and having conversations about the activities, and observers walking around the space getting a sense of the possibilities. Allowing for these different levels of participation supports people choosing to join in the experiences in a way that feels comfortable to them in the moment and can eventually lead to deeper interactions.
And while all these environmental elements like tables, materials, tools, and installations contribute to the makerspace, our real goal for the event was providing opportunities for fun, collaboration, and learning to happen between conference goers. As many museums and science centers continue to develop spaces for making and tinkering, we want to convey that at the end of the day the attitudes of the facilitators and the interactions and connections between people is what really makes a space a success. The makerspace at the ecsite conference provided so many opportunities for these types of interactions and it was exciting to see it evolve over the three days of workshops and presentations. A big part of that evolution was a new twist on our toy dissection workshop that lasted all three days of the conference and will be the subject of my next ecsite 2016 post.