The Biz: Mad scientists

WE MAKE THINGS: From community fix-it nights to creative development, these “makerspace” organizers plan to make the most of their new digs at 9 Walnut St. (from left to right: Mara McLaughlin-Taylor, Dallas Taylor, Avi Silverman and Ian Baillie). photo by Michael Carlebach
WE MAKE THINGS: From community fix-it nights to creative development, these “makerspace” organizers plan to make the most of their new digs at 9 Walnut St. (from left to right: Mara McLaughlin-Taylor, Dallas Taylor, Avi Silverman and Ian Baillie). photo by Michael Carlebach

While they won’t be able to blow anything up in an office, Avi Silverman says that having a physical space is an important first step for the tinkerers, inventors, engineers and such who call themselves the Asheville Makers. He likens the group’s new “makerspace,” which officially opened its doors on Nov. 5, to “an artists’ collective for engineers.” Fellow organizer Ian Baillie calls them “a bunch of mad scientists.”

Sometimes called “hackerspaces,” makerspaces are a place for people to get together and make things. For the Asheville Makers, this includes such things as building, fixing and creating car engines, mini-hovercrafts, hydroponic gardens, craft projects and more.

Baillie would rather be working with a wrench than staring at computer screens or tinkering with the various gadgets that litter the makerspace desks. But the lack of a larger workspace didn’t deter him from getting involved with the group. “We’ve developed a ridiculously large network of makers,” says Baillie. “At this point in time, you can come into this group with a project that you’re working on … and find somebody else who can probably help you take the next step in [the project] that you’re just not able to physically [or] mentally do. … It’s just the ability to be able to network with a group of people with just a broad swath of abilities and interests.”

The group came into existence about two years ago, but the core leaders of the Asheville Makers — Silverman, Baillie, Aric Seigle, Dallas Taylor and Mara McLaughlin-Taylor — have been reviving and leading the organization since April.

Silverman says that the new space, located at 9 Walnut St., will be instrumental in attracting new members and providing a space to host Tuesday-night meetings and regular workshops.

And while different group members’ interests vary, all the core organizers share a similar vision for the future of the organization, including achieving nonprofit status. A primary focus is to provide an educational resource for both the general community as well as local schools. These initiatives include public workshops, connecting with schools and hosting community “fix-it nights.”

“A big part of what I’m hoping to bring to this group is a movement towards not only making, but a movement towards fixing,” says Baillie. “The things you use every day aren’t these cryptic devices that you need to replace at great expense every time something happens. … You can take them apart, you can figure out what makes them work [and] become less of a disposable society and more of a self-reliant and self-discovering model.”

The group also envisions becoming a hub for innovation and a resource for local startups. “For me, this is something really good for Asheville on an economic development side of things,” Taylor explains. “So the idea is that we have [a] makerspace that is very open and invites the public to enjoy and be entertained by technology. … But then, people who have ideas can come along, people with businesses can come along, and we can help form those ideas and shape those ideas into more refined things.”

Ty Hallock, owner of TopFloorStudio, a software company and co-working space, also sees the potential for the Asheville Makers to contribute to Asheville businesses in a big way — so much so, his company hosts the group rent-free. “Some people like to look at this movement as a kind of renaissance of how we’re able to really kick-start the economy,” says Hallock. “It’s not just about having jobs and companies. … It’s the infrastructure, [and] you’ve got to have people like the Makers building community around these things.”

Asheville Makers has some big dreams, but as McLaughlin-Taylor points out, “This is a group of doers,” she says. “People who actually go forth, think of projects and create projects. It’s not just the dreamer piece of it, it’s also the doing piece of it.”

“I would hope that we would inspire other people, says Silverman. “Not to become makers — because I think everybody is a maker — whether that’s making food or your bed — you make things all the time, but for people to identify that they are makers. At least for me, that [has been] really empowering.”

Find out more about the Asheville Makers and their new makerspace at ashevillemakerspace.org, or connect via Facebook at facebook.com/groups/ashevillemakerspace.

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About Lea McLellan
Lea McLellan is a freelance writer who likes to write stories about music, art, food, wellness and interesting locals doing interesting things.

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