Makerspace: A place to learn and build skills, friendships

When the tech savvy, artists and science lovers come together in one place the result is Xipherspace.

In a warehouse in Kalamazoo, a new space is bringing together people of diverse but related interests in the pursuit of making cool things.

Technology is part of the mix, but what makes this particular hackerspace (also known as a makerspace) unique is that it is as much about learning hands-on skills that have nothing to do with computer technology as it is about learning the security limitations of your PC.

There are woodworking machines -- a band saw, radial arm saw and table saw. Machines for metal work, like a welder. There are drawers of tools that may be unfamiliar to those who can deftly steer a mouse but may have never lifted a wrench. And the guts of a physics classroom torn out of Portage Central when the high school was rebuilt are ready to be put back together.

The common characteristic of those who are working to make Xipherspace happen is an interest in learning new things and teaching what they know.

Since Aug. 1, the group has leased the property at 825 E. Crosstown Parkway. They immediately got to work clearing and cleaning the site that was flooded in the recent past.

Plans are being drawn for a kitchen, a lounge, classrooms, a library, and showers -- a critical addition for those who may be working round the clock if they are deeply engaged in a project. It also is important in the unlikely event there is a chemical spill while someone is working on a project.

Nick Doubleday, president, and Corey Posada, executive vice president, of Xipherspace launched the idea for a makerspace and enthusiasm for it spread among friends, and friends of friends.

They also came up with the name. They had been brainstorming ideas when they hit upon Xipherspace. To their delight, a Google search showed that no one else was using Xipherspace (pronounced  zy-fer-space). The space had its new name.

Doubleday and Posada got the basic information -- and the inspiration -- they needed to put together a hackerspace from a workshop given at the LINUX convention PenguiCon. More inspiration and advice has come from a similar space, i3 Detroit.

When they came home from the convention, Posada contacted the owner of a warehouse space that he knew might be available and from there the project has continued to roll. Today there are five board members and five regular members currently working to make it into the kind of environment they want it to be.

What Xipherspace is not about is illegally breaking into other people's computer systems to do damage or even as a prank. The culture they follow has as its values sharing, decentralization of resources, openness, free access and making the world a better place.

The group expects  the space to be ready within a year for the types of projects they want to undertake. Posada already has a long list. "I have a little apartment and a big garage," he says.

First comes finding funds to keep the roof over the group's head. Bylaws are in place and the group is seeking nonprofit status, but it is a time consuming and expensive undertaking.

Donations of materials and machines already are strong. Many of the tools have come from personal collections like those of the group's safety officer Ron Wagner, who describes himself as a tinkerer and inventor from Silicon Valley.

Now, finding a source of funding is critical, Posada says. "Right now this is all coming out of our pockets."

He says everyone who has heard of the space thinks it's a great idea. The key is finding those willing to help finance the project and members to keep it going.

They are working to get the word out. It has been an Art Hop site during three of the monthly hops, and they are not discouraged by the light turnout -- 10 people showed up on the last hop. "That's 10 people who hadn't heard of us before," says Emily Wohlscheid, secretary and a representative of artists in the organization.

How do artists fit into the space? "It reminds me of the time I was taking a Russian History class and an arts appreciation class at the same time and I realized how they were connected. Everything is connected in some way," says Wohlscheid.

From a personal standpoint, she also wants to learn the skills others can teach her.

Posada points out items across the warehouse that were once discarded and now have been fixed, often easily and inexpensively.

Members say certain skills are being lost and people can become much more self-reliant than they currently are if they are taught to take care of things. Devices that currently are thrown away often are an easy-fix away from being usable again.

As a youngster from large family, Posada learned how to grow things and fix things from his immigrant parents. He developed an appreciation for both once he became an adult, especially when he realized the high cost of taking cars and appliances to repair shops. Now he wants to pass those skills on to others.

"There is so much potential here," says Wohlscheid. "People could come here and use the equipment they don't have. This could end up driving the economy."

Kathy Jennings edits Southwest Michigan's Second Wave. She is a freelance writer and editor.

Photos by Erik Holladay.

Corey Posada in the warehouse now known as Xipherspace.
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