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Makerspace centers: Ingenuity at work

Makerspace centers: Ingenuity at work

Where people come to create
Makerspace centers: Ingenuity at work
The 3-D printing station at Troy's Tech Valley Center of Gravity.

High-tech junkyards. 

That’s one way to describe the Tech Valley Center of Gravity and the Albany Made Creative Lab, two makerspaces in the Capital Region. 

The term makerspace came out of the West Coast. It’s used to describe places where people of all specialties come together to create things out of odds and ends. 

In Troy, around 500 people come together to create every month at the Center. 

Complete with mad scientists, hackers, start-up entrepreneurs, welders and woodworkers, the Center is the largest makerspace in the area. 

Holly Cargill-Cramer, the Center’s executive director, said that this area was in great need of a makerspace, noting that it’s a well-educated area with many well-known engineering schools and colleges with thriving creative arts programs.

“People need a reason to stay in the Capital Region when they get out [of college],” Cargill-Cramer said.

It was a former Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Chief of Staff who first identified that need in 2012. 

“He wanted to fill a void for people who wanted to make physical products,” Cargill-Cramer said of Laban Coblentz.

In conjunction with David Bryce of Bryce Companies, Tom Tongue and Bob Bownes of the Capital Region Industrial Club, Coblentz created the Center. 
It’s a non-profit which makers can purchase memberships. Makers pay a monthly fee depending on how much access they want to the space and how often they’re going to need it. 

On the first floor, there’s a 3-D printing station, a lounge space, a community kitchen, an innovation lab for kids, a fiber arts center and a few spaces dedicated to startup companies. 

Things get a little louder on the ground floor with a welding room, a machine room and a woodworking shop. 

“There’s always this question of “can we make this or do we need to buy it?” Cargill-Cramer said of the equipment available to makers.

Most of the tools and machines were donated by members or from the community, including a serger machine, several old Bridgeports (or milling machines) and several others. 

While the Center is usually quiet in the mornings and mid-afternoons, there’s always at least a few people there working on something. 

“You can see someone was here all night and they’ll be back tonight to finish this,” Cargill-Cramer said as she passed by what looked like the start of a table top on a tour of the woodworking shop. The maker had left a sign, declaring that the creation had been left at 6 a.m. and would be returned to by 6 p.m.

Jim Cunliffe, who Cargill-Cramer nicknamed the Center’s “mad scientist,” is often working away at a desk on the ground floor. 

Cables and machine parts lay strew around him as he worked on what he’s nicknamed the Laser Broom. For now it’s a weed wacker with a laser and a trapezoid-shaped cover on the end, but eventually, it will use frequency-based technology to kill bugs like mosquitos and bees. 

Many ideas and products come out of the Center’s makerspace and some are even starting to become household names. 

Vital Vio, an overhead lighting system that disinfects as it lights, was created at the Center. 

MICROrganic Technologies, a microbial fuel cell platform technology to more efficiently run wastewater treatment plants, also work out of the Center. 

One of the reasons interesting products can arise out of makerspaces is that there are a variety of creative disciplines and backgrounds combined in one area.

Sometimes background knowledge on a lesser known material or technique can completely turn a project around. 

“We call them creative collisions here,” Cargill-Cramer said. 

Makers at the Center often come together to approach the same development problems from very different angles. 

Cargill-Cramer said that she’d seen fiber artists working with game designers to create a new video game controller and a host of other combinations. 

Sarah Clark, the creative services coordinator at the Albany Public Library has witnessed this sort of collision at the library’s makerspace as well. 

Albany Public Library created a makerspace in 2015 after seeing Fayetteville Library (near Syracuse) create one. 

“We were definitely an early adopter,” Clark said. 

The Albany Made Creative Lab -the name given to the makerspace- is targeted towards adults, although kids are welcome as well. 

It offers the Adobe suite of graphic design programs, a 3D printer, several sewing machines, a silk screen printer and a bike repair station. 

The Lab brings people into the library that might not otherwise be there, according to Clark, and it’s usually busy with makers. 

However, the library has to limit the hours the lab is open because it must be staffed whenever anyone uses the lab.

“That’s our biggest hang up right now,” Clark said. It’s open on Mondays from 4 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. and Thursdays from 2 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. and the first and third Saturdays of each month from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Makerspaces are starting to catch on in the younger generations too. 

Niskayuna and Shenendehowa have recently added makerspaces in some of their school libraries so that students can be exposed to the freedom and the challenges of creating a product from the ground-up. 

With the popularity of makerspaces and the creative outlets they can provide, Saratoga is also hoping to create a makerspace, according to Mayor Joanne Yepsen. 

Yepsen said that the City’s Arts Commision has discussed the interest and need for a makerspace, but the project idea has not yet moved forward.

“I do believe we have an opportunity here,” Yepsen said, citing the creative Beekman Street area and the thriving creative economy in Saratoga. 

However, they’re looking for someone with local ties and connections to create and facilitate the makerspace. Anyone who is interested can contact Yepsen’s office directly. 


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