What is a makerspace?
"Makerspaces are like gyms for makers. Instead of paying a membership fee for access to expensive fitness equipment, we provide access to manufacturing equipment. With our equipment, makers are able to design and build stuff that wouldn’t be possible with resources available to individuals working alone."
This post could equally be called, "How to find anything online" or "How to find a makerspace in a city you can't explore."
I'll spend the next 4-6 years of my life in Minneapolis. I visited once, but I had other priorities while I was there – like finding shelter, food, and community – that kept me from doing fun things like looking for my new hobby spot.
I want access to woodworking, CNC, and electronics tools for my personal projects while I'm in grad school at the University of Minnesota. The university has two "makerspaces" (The Makerspace and The Breakerspace) that don't require projects to be school-sponsored, but they are not true makerspaces and don't offer any large or cost-prohibitive equipment.
Over several posts, I'll take you through the process I used to find what I hope will be the optimal space for me, and I'll update you at every step!
What is a makerspace?
“Makerspaces are more than just sites to craft objects. They are also places to experiment with a different way of living – one that responds to the challenges and opportunities of a world in which technology is ubiquitous.”
It's important to define your priorities before you start searching to prevent yourself from being distracted by unimportant details or making decisions using only the information that's easiest to obtain from each business.
My priorities are those of a poor PhD student: affordable, inexpensive, and cheap. A location close to the university is included in those priorities as well as a high value for my dollar. I'll measure the value simply as the number of tools available unless I need a more precise measurement later on.
|table of priorities
|close to home
|lots of tools
I started by searching online for terms like "makerspace minneapolis," "community workshop minneapolis," or "university of minnesota makerspace." You can use Google for this, but I prefer DuckDuckGo because I'm a nerd. I immediately found some great choices! I'll give my first impressions below, but first I want to mention that the Minnesota Woodworkers Guild's website was a goldmine of information.
They have articles on basically everything relating to tools, DIY projects, construction, and Makerspaces in the entire state of Minneapolis. It also seems that they provide great classes, an amazing gallery of member projects, and many opportunities to find a community of like-minded groups. I'm seriously considering joining them if I end up living in Minnesota for long enough.
On the surface, MPLS Make seems to pay a lot for marketing (they show up first in almost all my search results), but they make a bad first impression. Their website's acceptable but difficult to navigate and read because of some significant formatting issues:
There's a brief introduction on the front page, and the obvious links outside of the navigation bar are for their Instagram account and a contact form.
Fortunately for them, I didn't list website design as a priority, so all of this will only come into play if I have to make a really close decision.
twin cities maker
Twin Cities Maker's website is a little more what I was expecting from a makerspace. They put everything I need to know on the front page: links to learn about available tools (with a brief overview telling what they expect me to do with them: woodworking, metalworking, high-precision machining, 24/7 access). The first block of text on the front page informs me that they are a non-profit and run by volunteers (both things that I appreciate), so this one is looking promising.
I love that they list a calendar of upcoming classes on their front page so I can see that they are regularly active and how I can immediately get involved!
All in all, Twin Cities Maker made a great first impression, but I still need to wait and see how they compare to other spaces I find.
White Bear Makerspace
The White Bear Makerspace website is a little dated when compared to the other two, but they easily make up for it with the information they provide! They list their hours first, then give very nice links to memberships, parties, and classes. Their calendar is one of the first things you see along with recent news from their shop.
My favorite thing is the featured video of the local news covering what's available in their shop with a nice tour and some example projects:
White Bear Makerspace made the best first impression by far!
First off: Minnesota Makerspace has the most aesthetically pleasing website so far. The first block of text says their goal is to offer "an affordable space for entrepreneurs and hobbyists to innovate." The first link is to become a member. Scroll down further and they have a Frequently Asked Questions section (a great addition!). Finally, they end with a summary of what they offer with contact information at the bottom.
Unlike the other sites, however, it looks like most of the images are stock images. This isn't necessarily bad, but I would rather see inside the shop and get an idea of the target demographic.
Overall, Minnesota Makerspace did a great job on their site! I can find all the information I need to make a decision without clicking on any links, yet they achieve this without crowding the pages with too much information.
Nordeast Makers may actually take the cake for the most aesthetic website. They lead with powerful quotes (including the one at the top of this post):
The future belongs to the few of us still willing to get our hands dirty.
Be ready when inspiration strikes. We are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
They describe their mission, the tools available, and a gallery of example projects right on their front page. Overall, they did a great job on the site and I feel confident that I can find any information I need.
minnesota tool library
This one isn't a makerspace per se, but I do consider it a viable alternative.
This tool library works just like a regular library, but instead of checking out books, you check out tools. Just like a library has places to read and research, they also have some space with large equipment and areas to work on projects.
They did a great job on their website: everything you need to know is at the top of their front page!
Overall, this looks like it may serve all my needs even though it's not a true makerspace.
picking the best option
What is a Makerspace?
A Makerspace is a space that contains tools and components, allowing people to enter with an idea and leave with a completed project.
Now that I have a lot of great choices, I'll make my decision using some great tricks from engineering school later this week!
read the next post!
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