Tinker, tailor, mechanic, nailer, butcher, baker, candlestick maker - everyone with handcrafting skills is invited to the MakerLab at the Two Rivers Art Gallery.
The MakerLab concept has become a global movement. The Library of Chicago has one; so does the University of Victoria; there is one in Istanbul. Each one runs uniquely, but the underlying theme is bringing people together who are good at building, fixing, and creating. Sculptors mix with auto mechanics, millwrights mix with poets. Each comes with either a project they want to work on individually in the space provided, or they arrive intending to collaborate on something not yet conceived of.
"Everyone has different backgrounds, different skills. Mixing them together makes new processes and new creative energy," said Kathleen Angelski, MakerLab co-ordinator for TRAG. "If you put an electrician together with a seamstress you might end up with an LED suit, or whatever. That's the collaboration we are trying to encourage."
The art gallery started its lab by buying a 3D printer but donations of hand tools or small power tools are appreciated.
The shared space and social setting is intended to foster the creative process not box it in, Angelski said.
"It is self-directed, helping each other, just enjoying the company of other people who also like to tinker and have maybe some artistic urges too," she explained. "We want to create a community of people who can connect with each other, and maybe restore some skills, some industrial arts that have been on the decline or underutilized."
For example, in her preparations to establish the MakerLab, she tried out blacksmithing - an industrial art that is not dead but rare now compared to the horse-and-buggy era. She also tried her hand at tying flies for fishing, another niche skill.
Gallery managing director Peter Thompson said MakerLab was "a new way to demonstrate the gallery's true relevance to the community," and offer "a new sort of welcome here" for those who might not have realized their creative skills also had a place in the artistic family.
Every Thursday night, MakerLab will run in a studio space devoted to the new initiative, located on the gallery's second floor. No appointment is necessary to take part, just a do-it-yourself mind and a curious heart.
"It's a gathering point where both new and experienced makers can connect to work on real and personally meaningful projects, a place to access new technologies as well as traditional tools, with the idea that one tool can be effectively shared by many," Angelski said. "It will be a working space for people who might not have their own. It will be a sounding board, a meeting place, a learning space, and a place to hang. "
Each Thursday from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., MakerLab will be open for kids aged 9 to 13 to take part in a more structured version, with guests and lesson plans. This requires preregistration, with fall, winter and spring sessions available priced at $133 to $95 plus tax, depending on the number of sessions. Some subsidies are available for those in need.
Teens are invited to drop in from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday nights, no preregistration required, for $4 each.
The open MakerLab sessions begin each Thursday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. It is free if you bring your own tools or $4 to use MakerLab tools.
There will also be monthly MakerLab workshops to showcase specific skills. One is a how-to on using the 3-D printer, another is costume making, yet another is working with silver clay.
For the first Thursday session, this week's focus will be setting up the space. Gallery staff have been prepping the space for weeks but Angelski called on those interested "to come in for an ol' fashioned barn raising" event to set up the final stages as a group. A launch party will happen at the same time.
WHAT'S A 3D PRINTER?
The city's first open-access 3D printer becomes available to the public Thursday.
The machine can be programmed with image data, then it oozes out melted PLA or ABS plastic in such a way that it hardens into a three-dimensional model of the image. Small print-jobs take about an hour, larger ones can take more than a day. If the data isn't quite correct, it might take multiple models before it comes out right, but that experimentation is what prevents major mistakes in the life-sized versions.
Although the technology behind a 3D printer is, in some ways, complicated, it is possible to build your own with the readily available components. In addition to teaching the public how to use the machine for printing, future workshops will also be held in how to build a 3D printer of your own.
"We looked around at what the top models in the market were, and within our budget," said gallery volunteer Darren Ditto. "We settled on a Cubx Duo. It's highly recommended and has won a number of consumer awards. We tracked down a reseller here in Canada, because there is a considerable backlog for them, and we now have this brand new, unique machine."
The cost was about $3,000 and gallery staff consider it a good investment because of the higher creative level it will take local artists. Art concepts can now be rendered into a working model, parts and tools can be manufactured, and commercial options are also available. It has already been used by a local company to build models of car parts for mechanical applications.
"These machines are not available to the average person, so having it here gives Prince George a lot of potential," said MakerLab co-ordinator Kathleen Angelski.