Athens MakerSpace logo

Voinovich School helps ReUse Industries bring MakerSpace to Athens

Daniel Kington
August 14, 2017

The Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs has partnered with Athens nonprofit ReUse Industries to establish the Athens MakerSpace (AMS), which will open this fall to provide work spaces, tools, classes and events in order to support artisanal and entrepreneurial creativity. 

The MakerSpace will be located on West Union St. and will be open to any interested members of the community. For a small annual subscription fee, community members may access the MakerSpace to engage in woodworking, metalworking, fabric-fiber arts, electronic and digital design, 3D printing, laser cutting and more.

“Athens MakerSpace will provide creative people including hobbyists and entrepreneurs with access to opportunities that would otherwise be unavailable to them in a range of creative disciplines,” said Zachary Holl, executive director of ReUse Industries. “At our makerspace, anybody can join as a member to use the tools they need and be part of a community of other skilled creators at a cost that will probably be less than their annual phone bill.”  

Even if individuals are not yet skilled in different art forms or familiar with available machines, they will still be able to use the MakerSpace, as volunteers will offer classes and trainings for a small fee. For budding entrepreneurs ready to start a small business, or those interested in potential entrepreneurship in future, the Voinovich School will provide entrepreneurship trainings at the Makerspace.

“Anyone starting a business based on their work in the MakerSpace will have the opportunity to learn and use venture development tools to expand their enterprise and enter the market,” said Faith Knutsen, the director of the Voinovich School’s Social Enterprise Ecosystem project. “If local artists and craftsmen are able to make things that people will use, then that enables folks to buy locally, perhaps from their friends.”

The MakerSpace has been in development for more than a year. During that time, details were ironed out as project leaders worked to find staff and determine a physical location for the MakerSpace. Big-picture questions also needed to be addressed. Researchers considered existing MakerSpaces in similarly sized towns to determine what was possible in Athens, and interviewed members of the community in order to customize the MakerSpace according to what potential users would like to gain from it.

Coming out of that research process, Knutsen said she expects the project’s primary value to be artisanal, but she was also impressed by the variety of entrepreneurial ideas community members brought to the table. 

“There’s a fellow who makes bicycle carts for transportation at local festivals,” Knutsen said, as an example. “Apparently there’s a small but regular stream of bicycle cart drivers in the market for these carts.” Knutsen hopes the MakerSpace will enable such small-scale entrepreneurs to expand their operations and lower their production costs.

The Athens MakerSpace is funded by Sugar Bush Foundation and the Appalachian Regional Commission's LIGHTS program, run out of the office of OHIO's Vice President of Research. The MakerSpace is just the latest step in the Voinovich School’s partnership with ReUse, which has been ongoing for five years with funding from the Sugar Bush Foundation.

Previously, the Voinovich School contributed to ReUse’s mission of offering low cost goods to low-income members of the community by helping ReUse establish volunteer-driven fix-it workshops and open a tool library. The fix-it workshops, hosted at the local library, invite members of the community to bring broken but reparable items such as ripped jeans, finicky lamps and more in order to work with volunteer electricians, seamstresses, metalworkers and others to learn how to fix their items themselves. The tool library allows community members to borrow tools such as log splitters and weed whips for a short time, rather than purchase such tools for rare use.

“Building on its five years supporting ReUse, the Voinovich School continues to be an indispensable partner by helping to bring Athens MakerSpace to life,” Holl said.

“Overall the Voinovich School’s partnership with ReUse has delivered to the Athens community a greater understanding and implementation of reusing, recycling, remaking and upcycling, in the context of a social enterprise that marries a viable thrift store with a wide variety of artisanal activities,” Knutsen said.