Meet the Makers: Westside Makerspace to help West Dayton Learn, Create, Collaborate
Updated: Jul 15, 2021
Makerspace will help Dayton community rebound after decades of divestment.
Westside Makerspace is the brainchild of University of Dayton grads and co-founders Edwin Dirksen, Cherrelle Gardner, Claude Nicol, and Alvin Wilkerson. Inspired by the success of Gem City Market, the three engineers and program director (Gardner is also program director at Co-op Dayton), have committed to highlighting the “talents and assets, artisans, and creative entrepreneurs” in West Dayton, says Wilkerson. “It was the early days of Gem City Market,” says Gardner, “when people believed that [the venture] was real.”
Learn. Create. Collaborate.
A makerspace is “a communal public workshop in which makers can work on small personal projects.” (Merriam-Webster).
“We started as a grassroots makerspace,” says Gardner. “We built out one of our teammate’s garages… which is featured in our promo video, with the goal to create a community workshop.”
We pulled our tools together [including] screw drivers, a table saw, and purchased a laser engraver from eBay.
Other makerspaces in the region include the Columbus Idea Foundry, Spark Place (Xenia), Dayton Sewing Collaborative (textiles), Tejas/K12 (youth and adult art), Cincinnati Public Library, and The Manufactory (also in Cincinnati). Proto BuildBar in Dayton—now permanently closed—was a digital fabrication space.
Gardner says, “Westside Makerspace will begin accepting memberships this fall and community members can join them in co-creating the space (including how much the membership will cost, what the membership gets you, and what will be in the space. You do not have to consider yourself a maker to make something, because this space is for you too!”
The team has secured an 800 square foot community space prototype location in the new West Branch Library (fall 2021) and will be in that space for about one year, which will help them determine “the interests of the community,” says Wilkerson, and learn what types of “equipment the community wants in a makerspace. We will also be able to secure funds to launch a full-scale makerspace. Our plan is to use the prototype phase to further develop and then look for a (more) permanent location.”
Makerspace will help Dayton community rebound after decades of divestment.
As a Dayton Public Schools alum, Wilkerson realized the limited access to STEM and STEAM education. Arriving at UD, “We could see the impact of the lack of education… once you try to go to school and pursue something like engineering, and [subsequently] have to play the catch-up game, we wished we’d had introduction to STEM earlier.”
The idea “also stems from seeing the creativity that exists on the Westside, he says, “and throughout Dayton and there not being a place where people can come and further develop their creativity.” The lack of manufacturing in Dayton was another factor that “weighed heavily on the team as we developed the idea for the space…,” he says, “some of us remember family members” who received “decent wages at General Motors, Delphi,” or other manufacturers in the area, and “seeing the effects of those businesses leave.” We did not have a system in place “to prepare people for changes that would happen in the workforce. Seeing those changes now, [like changes in] automation, the heavy reliance on the ability to design and code, and not having a place where people can go to develop those skills. A makerspace is “a place where people can explore [different] facets of creativity, gain skills, and help solve a multitude of problems.”
Gardner says, “The thing we all have in common is our families’ investment in us to make sure we were successful, often taking “us outside of our neighborhoods.” She reflects on how it felt to get outside of her comfort zone, noting, “This is the neighborhood where I feel comfortable, this is where I’ve grown up, this is where my friends are, but I have to leave my neighborhood” to get access to other opportunities. “We found that through connecting with other young professionals—especially young black professionals—” she continues, “is that you go to college, you get a well-paying job, and you leave your neighborhood.”
Gardner and Wilkerson credit Co-op Dayton’s Incubator with helping them develop the vision for the space. The incubator was “designed to provide a connection for neighborhood entrepreneurs and innovators to the university and its resources, as well as a pathway into the region’s startup ecosystem.”
What would it look like for us to reinvest in the areas where we grew up and reinvest in the people that grew up in similar situations that would get people to stay here, return here, and invest in a place that looks like us? —Cherrelle Gardner
Gardner wants the Westside Makerspace to be a place of opportunities that their team members had to leave their neighborhoods for. But also, “a space outside of a traditional classroom or workplace, where we can connect and learn and grow with community. We can pool together our unique talents and skills and exchange them in an alternative space.”
Their team is interested in partnering with Dayton Public Schools and the Wright Brothers Institute but is open to other organizations as well.
Westside Makerspace won Co-op Dayton’s Pitch Competition (fall 2020) and they were recently notified that they won UD’s Flyer Pitch Competition (Social Venture Prize). This will help with the prototype phase. They will also raise capital through membership drives as well as solicit donations.
Wilkerson says they were still in the development phase in the Co-op Dayton Incubator when the pandemic hit, and they had to pivot to virtual events and re-think ways to connect with people. He says it was “a little harder not being able to do that in person.” We had to slow down and be intentional,” says Gardner, “in what we are trying to create. The shut-down “put the need for community-based solutions back in the forefront,” and she cites the early days of the pandemic and how Dayton Sewing Collaborative had the space, the equipment, and materials, and how “They mobilized and made thousands of masks and distributed them across Dayton. Seeing their response,” she says, “helped us imagine what we could do to serve the Dayton community.”
“As we learned more about makerspaces and their impact,” Wilkerson says, “we saw how some [spaces] could respond to the pandemic,” because they tapped the community for solutions. “We connected with a makerspace in Louisiana,” he says, “that refurbished computers so that kids could continue their education online. We saw cooperatives like Gem City Market come up and [witnessed] the community collectively solve a problem. Makerspaces can do the same thing. It is one of the driving forces for us.”
Community Meetings are held virtually (for now) every second Thursday of the month. The next one is May 13th at 6:00 pm. You can sign up at https://www.westsidemakerspace.com/events.
Gardner says she “Wants us to think about how we can use our collective talents with the tools we have.” Anything from “neighborhood cleanups, or maybe there’s a group that wants to install a raised bed; we can help build [it] and show the community how to use the tools to do so.”
“Entrepreneurship is a big focus of ours,” Wilkerson says. “We want to be a place where entrepreneurs or anyone can come to collaborate with others, have space to operate a business from, or a place to make their product. This will be a place to bounce ideas off other people or figure out how best to do something. How can Westside Makerspace be that space? We are working to close gaps in the economic ecosystem, so that people have a space to get the answers they need. That might include vinyl cutting their own signs, 3D printing, or making swag (buttons or hats).”
“The ultimate idea is that the makerspace builds,” he says, “and the surrounding community subsequently changes, because you introduce people to skills. We want people to outgrow the makerspace. A person can come to the makerspace,” he says, “and learn about fashion design and sewing, then they can open their own boutique. When people get the skills, we can create a new economy in Dayton that circulates the money in our community, because we have people with the skills who are learning, starting, and running their own businesses.”
Learning along the Journey
Wilkerson says starting and maintaining a successful business includes “mentorship, reaching out to people, and learning.” These resources have “helped us develop,” he says, “and we have a dedicated core team that is passionate about the makerspace.”
Gardner says she learned about “the myth of the solo entrepreneur,” and that “no one does this alone. People like the idea that they got where they are by themselves, but if you piece together their process and experience, they met someone who told them about an opportunity, or a source that helped them get funding that connected them to yet another resource… whether you’re developing a co-op or a business owned by a single person, none of us gets here by ourselves.” She also suggests that entrepreneurs “be willing to share ideas [with others] and pay that back to the community that helped you create your business. Invest in other people so they can create one too.”
Wilkerson also credits Co-op Dayton with helping the team learn from others’ journeys and to document their own, including record-keeping, sharing notes, and “the idea that being a co-op is that everyone is part of the business; everyone should understand the business—even if each person is not an expert in every area—but everyone should have an understanding because you can’t do it on your own.”
“We’re looking at outside people to solve our problems,” he says. “Gem City Market is an example of the community coming together. As we expand our makerspace team, and more people join, that’s when we will get stronger, pick up traction, and be the community-owned cooperative makerspace, where the workers make the decisions, run the business, and all the profits will come directly back to workers in the community. Makerspaces are being developed because people want to solve actual problems and get paid for the work they produce. Co-ops are often more lucrative than working for someone else… people are more invested because they will own a piece of it.”
Gardner says the team is “committed to collectively pulling together and finding all the tools and equipment they can. We want people to tell us what they would make in the space. We are “equally committed to helping people find what they need in order to make the things they want to make.”
“Everyone is a maker, in some way, and we all wake up with some level of creativity and innovation inside us, but after the divestments from the community, people have this idea that I’m not a creative, I’m not a maker. We want this space to show people we all have something to offer. We [must] get back to being excited to learn about something [and] passionate about sharing what [we] know. That is one of the driving forces behind the space,” says Wilkerson.
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