Just over a year ago, I was invited to exhibit and speak at Z0: Digital Fabrication and the New Language of Materiality at Gallery 788 in my home borough of Hampden here in Baltimore. The show was being organized by Fab Lab Baltimore, an open-access digital fabrication facility at Community College of Baltimore County-Catonsville. I had been visiting there over the preceding few months to prototype the Zip Tie Lounge Chair, which I exhibited as a whole object and with the exploded parts hung on the neighboring wall. The staff had been radically patient with me, through broken bits and dumb questions, and I was flattered to be asked to show my work.
I was a little nervous -- still getting my public-speaking legs under me -- but I said yes, and spoke a bit about my history as a furniture designer, my (then-upcoming) book, and how was I was moving towards exploring digital fabrication. Afterwards, a Boh or three deep, I fell into conversation with Tom Burkett, of Baltimore Underground Science Space, and Jason Hardebeck, of the Baltimore Foundery. That conversation planted the first seeds for what would become the Industrial Arts Collective.
Over the summer, Jason and I spoke to other makers in Baltimore, and gradually built some consensus, culminating in a meeting in August at the Station North Tool Library. The first meeting was mostly of makerspaces in Baltimore, representing about seven community-based shared workshop facilities. Since then, we started meeting once a month, rotating through different spaces, sharing a few brews, and chatting about how to make Baltimore a better place for making things.
As time wore on, the group grew organically. We used a Google Group to stay organized, gradually adding folks that came to a meeting or expressed interest through one of our members. The original definition -- an alliance of makerspaces -- had expanded, now including maker educators and craft manufacturers. By late fall, we had gotten a local graphic design firm, Orange Element, to do a logo for us. Now we had to do something with it.
With volunteer help, we began work on two initiatives: a website with a shared calendar, and a pop up shop. The website came together at the hands of Luke Hanyok, and was envisioned as a one-stop online destination for Baltimore-area folks interested in making things. The calendar is community-maintained and tag-sortable, showing all the member organization's events and workshops. Each person or organization also has profile page, linking out to their work and home site.
The pop up shop was originally conceived by Sarah Templin, proprietress of Radica Textiles, and seconded by Andy Cook, who works on industrial revitalization for the city. The idea gained new urgency after April's events knocked the dust off of Baltimore's complacency around structural social problems and economic stagnation, Highlighting Baltimore makers in a temporary shop is a way to highlight positive creation in the city, build grassroots economic growth, and help makers themselves network their way forward in a competitive business environment.
To bring it all together, we had a design charette with the good folks at the Neighborhood Design Center; got materials donated by DETAILs Deconstruction; and raised sponsorship money from Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts and the Baltimore Development Corporation. We've also scheduled a growing slate or programming during the shop's run, including an event to connect institutional buyers with local vendors and a happy hour by Bmore Art. Long-term, the hope is to turn the IAC into a proper nonprofit that can function as an umbrella advocacy organization for maker culture in Baltimore.
This project has been a great deal of fun, and given me an excuse to get out and meet all the radical makers in the city. It's also been a hopeful antidote to the trials and tribulations of living in Baltimore lately, providing a strong counterpoint to the drubbing we've taken in the national press.
That said, we have a lot of work to do. Manufacturers need safe, affordable, accessible space. Our group is trying hard to reach out to diverse makers and cross the invisible borders between communities in town. We are trying to demonstrate that this group has something to say about Baltimore -- something good, growing, and grassroots.
But I am not the face of this. We all are. Please email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.wemakebaltimore.com if you or someone you know would like to participate in the shop or the IAC. We are open and welcome to all.