Matthew Wood, February 10, 2017
A team at the University of Michigan is making the state more creative, one makerspace at a time.
The Making in Michigan Libraries program is the project of U of M Clinical Associate Professor Kristin Fontichiaro, who takes her group of graduate students around the state to help Michigan communities make the most of their resources.
They secured a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services for the three-year project that works with community leaders to build and expand makerspaces, places where people can gather to learn, create and invent.
"We've been one of the first pioneers about why libraries could be an environment for makerspaces," Fontichiaro says. "It's built on the sense of community and sharing and what comes out of a public space."
Many times, makerspaces in libraries come equipped with high-tech software like 3D printers and other gadgets to help inspire creativity. But Fontichiaro, a Michigan native, says a lot of the communities they want to help just don't have the budgets for those kinds of things. Many times they have to improvise and groups will use their creative talents with more easily procured items.
The Making in Michigan Libraries projects started last summer when they chose a number of communities around the state. Then they hit the road for a barnstorming tour. They went to places like Frankenmuth and Saginaw to smaller communities like Benzonia, a small village of about 500 tucked in the northwest corner of the state.
"We're really excited," Fontichiaro says. "They've been such great partners. They really show us the ideas they want to do."
Each community provides unique opportunities — and budgets.
"Benzonia has a strong artisanal practice and agriculture. What do we do to build on that?" Fontichiaro says. "How do folks with limited budgets make good on those? They can't afford to buy a $12,000 laser cutter or 3D printer. That has been a really exciting angle to follow. How do we get those creative impulses, but with lower budget? Can we get same agencies with cardboard boxes and rolls of tape and things like that."
Now in its second of three years on funding from IMLS, Fontichiaro wants the program to evolve to their partners' needs. She says the goal is for her group to work in a facilitation role and to let the communities own what projects they produce.
"As a Big Ten school, we don't want to say, 'This is the [University of] MIchigan way, do it our way, and by the way we're leaving,'" she says. "We want to find communities that need more time and just want to get them over the hump. We can see what's changed, what's happening. We can tell them what we think and they can give us their feedback. If their community isn't enhanced by us being there, we haven't done our job."
The plan is to add another faculty member and PhD student to the team for the third year. Fontichiaro hopes they can be a little more reflexive and really get a sense of what programs can work going forward. The ultimate goal is developing programs that people will actually use and will get their creative juices flowing.
"We work really hard on this project. We work a lot of hours," she says. "But I also feel like it is such a joy and people have shared so much for us. With the exception of how much sleep you get, it's a joy more than a drudgery. I'm a Michigander, I take it seriously that it's in our mission to work towards the betterment of our state."
'Ganders throughout the state can rejoice at having such a creative group on their side.
Images courtesy of Michigan Makers