Making a Safer Makerspace | Make:

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It was Friday, March 6, 2020 and our new public makerspace in Bristol, Rhode Island, was on target to open in just a few weeks. Nearly three hard months of designing, making, and building furniture for the space, researching, writing and developing policy, building websites, getting people excited on social media, and setting up tools had us anticipating the opening in just a few weeks. The end of the work week came and it was time to go home. We turned off the lights and locked the doors for the weekend. Monday came along much too quickly (the weekends are never long enough!) when, due to the new and rapidly spreading Covid-19 virus, the Governor of Rhode Island declared a state of emergency. Businesses shut down, schools went remote, and workers all over began a massive shift to working from home. We too decided to cancel the upcoming makerspace opening. It wasn’t an easy choice, but it was the responsible one.

The spring and summer were bumpy for everyone but Narwhal Labs finally opened to the public in October 2020. For many makerspaces and hackerspaces around the world, unfortunately, the story doesn’t have the same happy ending. Some doors have shut indefinitely. Others have closed permanently or struggle to make rent. Many of these wonderful local communities of like-minded tinkerers, hackers, and makers still aren’t sure they’ll have a physical space to return to, or tools and equipment to use. For those still operating, engagement has declined, and access is limited.

Holding the fort

For the months following the cancelled opening, the crew at Narwhal Labs focused on content — making entertaining and educational videos to start our new YouTube channel, and making new content for the space’s sponsor, TotalBoat (Narwhal Labs is located at their facilities). We made arrangements with some friends to help make videos and social media posts. We even hired a full-time videographer. I see our facility as a test kitchen of sorts — developing techniques and learning, and using digital media as a way to share what we learn. It doesn’t matter if you’re making a cake, resin art, or a mobile guitar stage and store — there’s still testing to be done, recipes of some kind to be perfected, and lessons to be learned to achieve success with a project. Our crew has been able to work with local friends and those passing through like Xyla Foxlin (IG: @xylafoxlin), Tim Sway (@timsway1), Jessie Jewels (@jessiejewelsart), Paul Jackman (@jackman_works), Troy Conary (@arbortechie), as well as Phillip and Elizabeth Danner (@dannerbuilds and @dannerbuildswifey) on videos. We’ve also collaborated on live-stream videos with our friends Sami and Cory at AvidCNC, and for the virtual Catskill Mountain Maker’s Camp weekend.

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