In 2010, my company founded a makerspace in our hometown of Rome, GA. Our work has always involved trend-spotting in the area of technology-based community and economic development – and a makerspace seemed like an appropriate investment, the right experiment to learn how communities could move forward.
I wrote at length about our inspiration at that time here.
I moved in and lived for the first couple of years in the attached apartment as our original “maker in residence.” Since that time, countless people have visited and worked and made things in the space. It has evolved in unexpected ways. We, along with numerous civic, corporate and community organizations have held meetings and events there. Its members conceived of and created a world-class event called Confluence. Chris Anderson from Wired Magazine visited the space and declared it “the most beautiful makerspace in the world.” Make Magazine named it “one of the most interesting makerspaces in America. Oh, and I found the love of my life under its domed ceiling.
Now, I am writing this post to announce that 7hills Makerspace will come to an end in April, 2017 – at least in its iconic location at 336 Broad Street. There are several practical reasons for this:
- This is the end of our current lease term at the Masonic Lodge.
- My company needs to evolve into new areas, and it is appropriate to realign our resources to tackle new problems, and to experiment in new emerging areas.
- Berry College, with whom we’ve had a partnership with for the past couple of years — providing a shared lab space for students in its Creative Technologies program — continues to advance its leadership in this area, its HackBerry Lab, along with its facilities and other resources.
- Darlington School, a leading private school here in Rome, continues to advance its maker program, robotics competition, and summer camp for your makers.
- Makervillage, a project I co-founded with Tricia, is gaining momentum and becoming a force for entrepreneurship for Rome. I want to return more to my roots – starting and growing new companies – and I want to offer more support under Tricia’s proven leadership.
- CrowdFiber, a company incubated within Makervillage is taking off and consuming 150% of my time, as well as that of my business partner.
Aside from these practical reasons, I also believe the value makerspaces provide within communities may not be perpetual. It occurred to me that, had citizens put together “internet spaces” in the early 90s, when the web first came about, those might have been vibrant places for several years. But such places would make little sense in the world we live in today, mainly because the internet is woven into every part of our lives, across the dimensions of work/live/play, place, and time.
I could argue that, if the culture of making becomes so pervasive in a community that it is happening in schools, libraries, homes, garages and coffee shops – and in the absence of a space dedicated to making – it might be time to think about sunsetting the space itself. This will be approached differently in every community, with every group of makers. But I think the maker movement becoming pervasive, as it has in Rome, can be a source of pride and accomplishment for a community.
I am also mindful of the “Seinfeld phenomenon.” Being a comedian, Jerry Seinfeld was very conscious of the issue of timing when deciding to end his series in 1999. He said at that time “I wanted the end to be from a point of strength. I wanted the end to be graceful.” Graceful is how I want to remember our space, and our time in it.
The reality is that 7hills Makerspace is a member-based organization today. So, despite whatever decision I make or my company makes, it could actually continue in 2017 under different leadership, or in a different location, or with a different business model, or with a different sponsoring organization. If that’s what its members elect to do, I will applaud that decision, and support them in any way possible.
I want to personally thank Dr. Matt Mumber for giving us the opportunity to build and operate our makerspace in the beautiful, inspiring Masonic Lodge that he and his wife so carefully restored. I am sure that our rag-tag band of makers and our oft-times flea-market environment was not what he envisioned for such an historic and sacred building. The walls of that beautiful space have seen many “movements” come and go, and I like to imagine Max Meyerhardt and Robert Redden looking down favorably on our time here. As George Washington once said “the grand object of Masonry is to promote the happiness of the human race.”
I especially want to thank Dr. John Grout of Berry College and Tricia Steele of SAI Digitial for co-founding the space with me, and for seeing it through the thick and the thin. I want to thank my business partner, Bailey White, for co-investing with me, and granting me the latitude to experiment with a makerspace in my hometown. I want to thank David Parker of Parker FiberNet for bringing us the fastest internet in the world, and for being a consummate maker himself, long before it was cool. I want to thank Rome commissioner Wendy Davis for being our fearless and visionary elected leader, and Sammy Rich, our brilliant young city manager, for helping us navigate many parts of the community to build support. I want to thank fellow makers Eric Parker and Grace Belangia (Augusta), Jim Flannery (Athens), Rob Betzel, Nadia Osman and Michael Rosario (Macon), and Charlie and Bindy Auvermann (Dawsonville) for inspiring us through makerspace efforts in their communities. Most of all, I want to thank our members — who saw the vision and supported the space over the years.
I will cherish the experiences I have had and the friends I have made through the space for a lifetime. Rome, Georgia will go on teaching and healing and making just as it has for over a century – I hope and pray that it will do just a bit more making – in some part because we were here.