Lexington Makes Its Own Maker Space

Sep 6, 2017

A new community center in Lexington is welcoming all self-described hobbyists, tinkerers and creators to come together and make.  WMRA’s Faith Pinho has this story on the Lexington Collaboratory and Makerspace.

[Drilling, pulling apart a cell phone]

Meet 27-year-old Victoria Fallen, a landscaper in Lexington who is spending her Thursday evening taking apart an old cell phone.

FALLEN: I didn’t know that there were so many little pieces.

Fallen showed up at the new Lexington Collaboratory and Makerspace without any idea for a project. But then she was handed a drill, a screwdriver and a cell phone, and she set to work.  That’s pretty much how the Makerspace works – someone comes with an idea, someone else brings some energy and, with the help of a few tools, a project unfolds. It could be anything – taking something apart, putting something together again or creating something new altogether.

Jamie Goodin, co-manager of the Makerspace and marketing strategist at Washington and Lee University, says he wants the facility to become the go-to spot for anyone with a product idea, an obscure skill – or even just a curiosity.

GOODIN: A lot of the Makerspace mindset is just get in there and build something. It really is like Legos for adults. Have fun, have your hands on something, build something and watch it work.

If that sounds really general, Goodin says that’s the right idea. The Makerspace is a place you can go to make anything.

GOODIN: I really want to take this lawnmower engine I have and attach it to my bike somehow. I just want to do it. And people will help you. That is the community culture we’re really trying to build.

The Lexington Makerspace opened the first week in July, with grant money from the nonprofit Main Street Lexington. Already, the walls are lined with materials, from cardboard and insulation foil to a sewing machine and a robot that can draw on any surface. Goodin says he hopes the Makerspace will one day house a tool library, with enough materials to supply any project. So far, local community members have donated all the supplies. The tools are there to tinker with, inspire new ideas – and help people bring their pipe dreams into existence.

GOODIN: We envision a Makerspace where people can come and meet and just have a good community meeting center for education, which is cool in itself, but also have people network and be able to actually create products there or modify products there, like get custom engraving for branding, or meet the people who can help them do those things. There‘s lot of people who know how to build a website and there’s a lot of people who know how to build a table. But not necessarily both.

Makerspaces are popping up all over the country, but the idea for one in Lexington took shape when City Manager Noah Simon started his term two and a half years ago. He had seen Makerspaces positively impact the economy where he used to live in Georgia, and he wanted to bring the opportunity for economic development to Lexington.

SIMON: It’s just that intersection of ideas, and I want Lexington to be that crossroads of ideas, crossroad of innovation. … We’re looking at small, unique kinds of cottage industries that could really blossom in Lexington. So you could locate here or you could already be here and want to do these kinds of things and now you have another forum in which you can collaborate and innovate. … And, you know, who knows, maybe that next million dollar or billion dollar idea will come as a result of our Makerspace.

No billion dollar ideas have sprung up yet, but the Makerspace has held several Makers Jams – those meetings where people like Victoria Fallen tinker and brainstorm new projects – as well as a workshop to teach how to make a hydraulic-powered machine. Makerspace members plan to regularly hold more workshops for specific inventions or professional development skills.

And the subject of these makers meetings doesn’t have to be something as tangible as making a machine – someone could come in with an idea for a software program or a sewing project. Andy Martin, a Spanish teacher at Rockbridge County High School, says these specialties already exist in Lexington – it’s just a matter of bringing people together to harness that creativity.

MARTIN: It’s a weird little oasis in the middle of the Shenandoah, I feel. … There’s so much culture, there are so many ideas. It’s a town of incubation.”

Goodin says that with enough tinkering and collaborating, big ideas are bound to ignite.

GOODIN: This whole thing is really a grand experiment in lofty ideas. Like, it’s the loftiest idea to think okay, if we just have a space and we have a few tools and we have a few meetings, people are going to start making businesses. That sounds pretty crazy but I’m glad that that’s our goal.