The MakerLab at the Powerhouse Science Center has generated a meaningful conversation in the community rich with creativity, collaboration and the sense that you are the maker of your own life.
Five years ago, MakerLab co-founder Ryan Finnigan – with two other founders, Alexii Carey and Brandon Walter – started what was originally called the Durango Maker Club.
They met monthly with the Powerhouse Science Center to talk about their goal to build a space in Durango that supplied the Four Corners with augmented educational opportunities, including STEAM-based activities, crafts, project-based learning, starting companies, collaborative initiatives, networking and more.
They wanted the community to get excited about using the facility to make things – whether it be for a living, for others or for themselves.
When the Powerhouse closed in 2015, Finnigan put his energy into summer camps with MakerLab aspects and, similar to what Carey did in Mancos before moving to Durango, took one student at a time under his wing to build a project together over a year or so – to make a lasting impact on the life of a community member.
“It wasn’t just for the benefit of others. It was fun for me, too,” Finnigan said.
The Powerhouse started to reboot and build up its education offerings, and Finnigan, Carey and Walter struck a partnership for a negotiated space. Soon after, a full merger with the MakerLab was born to mutually benefit the Powerhouse, MakerLab and the community. The MakerLab’s grand opening was held Sept. 15 last year.
The facility isn’t merely designed by those who work there, however, and the public plays a major role in what it offers. The equipment and resources are changed for and from the community based on feedback. For example, MakerLab members started to put together a woodworking shop last Saturday and, although the space is unfinished, Director Brian McDonagh said people have already asked about what it includes and when it will be available for use.
“What the community wants is what we try and make happen for them,” he said.
New for 2018, the MakerLab offers a wood- and metal-working shop, jewelry-making equipment and a high-end quilting machine. Local weaver Mary Alice Hearn learned about the equipment available there, and has expressed interest in leading weaving classes.
Some people use the equipment and resources at the MakerLab for money-making or entrepreneurial purposes, whether it’s handcrafting art to sell at the flea market or starting a company.
Durango resident Nick Coffey is an example of a young entrepreneur who found his calling, and even turned his life around, shortly after the MakerLab opened. Coffey discovered what the facility had to offer during a mandatory community service he had to serve.
“When I was first introduced to the MakerLab, I remember realizing that even in 10 years I’d never be able to afford any of the equipment in the woodshop. And for a $45 membership, I suddenly had access to all the resources at the Powerhouse,” he said.
At the time, Coffey said he was spending most of his time at the bar and drinking a lot. He said he needed a hobby that would motivate him to do something meaningful.
“I got into laser cutting and printing, continued working in the woodshop and it took off from there. I wanted to make things,” he said.
Coffey is now a licensed business owner and works as a self-made “laser engraver” through the MakerLab. He also makes custom artwork for businesses and people in the community, from refrigerator magnets to erotic wood art.
“I started making money from it and spent more time at the MakerLab and less at the bars because it’s open 24 hours a day. Instead of drinking after work, I could just make something. I decided to put my energy toward being productive rather than destructive,” he said.
The Harms family has also found meaning in the MakerLab. Coffey taught them about laser cutting. Kim Harms, her husband, Dan, and their children, Trevor, 14, and Brayden, 12, use the lab’s resources and have completed several projects as a family and individually.
“It’s great for our kids. It’s allowed them to have access to tools that they’ve been able to use to create things they would have never been able to create otherwise,” said Kim Harms. “It’s made them more excited about math concepts and constructions, modeling, using the laser cutter. It offers far deeper educational experiences than what they would have normally had.”
They have made a school-supply box, a galvanized steel replica of the mask of Sauron from the “Lord of the Rings” films, a quiver for holding arrows, electronics that add light and sound to other projects, night-lights and various school projects.
Equipment can also used as a resource to prepare students for employment. MakerLab staff have been in contact with Durango Adult Education Center to talk about possibly offering programs that teach skills, which can be applied at companies such as StoneAge, a manufacturer of high-pressure hydro-blasting tools. The MakerLab facilitates programs and classes for home-schooled students, teachers in training, the Rocketry Club and middle and high school STEAM enrichment.
It also has an array of programs, community-outreach partnerships, classes, workshops and events to offer.
Some of the regular classes and events at the MakerLab include: safety and introduction to the MakerLab; leather working; introduction to laser cutting; computer numerical control routing; 3-D modeling; 2-D modeling and tool strategy; introduction to electronics; sewing and textiles; 3-D printing; and the Friday open house.
Classes coming soon include: introduction to woodworking machinery; woodwork project-based classes; welding 101; women, welding and wine; general metalworking skills; jewelry making and a youth maker program.
For more information, visit www.themakerlab.org.