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August 21, 2019

What is a Maker Space?

Emily Smith is an artist, educator and hands-on learning advocate and is our current consultant on our upcoming exhibition, Maker Space at ArtStarts. With her help, we will be transforming our Gallery into an engaging, collaborative space for families to enjoy the process of creating, make mistakes and see what they can learn along the way!

As someone who has helped pioneer the maker movement in Vancouver, we asked her a few questions to learn what makes her so passionate about this approach to learning. Here are a few insights she shared with us:

What is a Maker space?

[Emily Smith] “I would describe a maker space as a social space built and designed for any community to access and share equipment, skills, and knowledge with one another.  They can be as small and DIY as a garage or a supply closet, a room in a library, or more formally run space like MakerLabs. maker spaces invite others to get hands-on and create. They are an invitation to make in an otherwise consumer-driven world.

Maker spaces are shaped by their members but are ultimately about personal empowerment. Demystifying what and how things are made, and putting tools in your hands to do basic things we aren’t taught in school anymore: how to swing a hammer, or how to fix and mend your clothes.

Maker spaces or workshops are not necessarily new. What is new, is what it means to make today. We have new tools, technologies, and can buy just about anything in stores, or online. Manufacturing in North America has changed in recent years, and the desire for access to tools and technologies reflect a basic human urge: to make.”


Why have you devoted your practice towards the maker movement?

[Emily] “I used to work in graphic design which meant spending a lot of time in front of a computer. I was craving for something that was more hands-on so I started knitting again although I never felt there was a purpose for it (why knit something when you can just buy it?).

In my late 20’s I started to really examine the purpose of making things which began by looking at my own clothing - Where did they come from? Who made them and what were they made out of? I realized how invisible the process of clothing manufacturing was to the public which inspired me to learn more about it. 

That’s when I discovered a group of people who were thinking about computer coding the way I was thinking about textiles. When I was able to see the connection between the two, suddenly I was interested in engaging with electronics, coding, and what it actually means to experiment more like a scientist. When I was in school I recall not being as engaged as I could be with science or math, because there was too much focus on memorization or I didn’t see the relevance or connection to everyday life. Science and math are rarely taught by doing. They were introduced to me through memorization. 

maker spaces offer so many connections with art, science, tech, critical thinking, cultural traditions history - This is how I want to learn! I have since traveled to maker spaces in California and Peru, and it’s been fascinating to see how different regions engage with learning by doing.


How do maker spaces help promote the belief that art is for everybody?

[Emily] “It creates the mindset and the willingness to make something. It can be knitting, weaving, and even coding or writing. It taps into the individual's skills, providing a space to find something that makes you curious and solve problems. That's what art does, it helps you engage with the world. 

If STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) subjects involve the arts, then we would have different kinds of thinkers and more critical thinking. If you are creating something, you are inherently pulling from different disciplines.”


How does a maker space help promote the value of art in education/art as a means to reach different kinds of learners?   

[Emily] “Artists are communicators and communication skills are a big part of sharing your work. When there is an understanding of the process, it’s easy to share what you’ve learned. One wonderful observation is seeing students teaching each other rather than competing against one another through the process of making. 

That ability to communicate with an audience is so important. It’s how you enable student leaders and how we have adults and young people work together as equals. They are troubleshooting and collaborating together. It creates storytelling in subjects like science establishing more creative ways to explore and gain a deeper understanding of the WHY?”


What can we look forward to the upcoming Maker Space at ArtStarts? 

[Emily] “Caregivers, teachers, and young people will have space to create a more cohesive network and tap into a movement that is already happening around the world. This is exciting because it creates another home base for this movement in classrooms around Vancouver

There is a huge opportunity to expand this philosophy and the network of ArtStarts can help expand and plant more seeds in terms of what’s possible with making in the classroom today. 


Save the date! The public opening for the Maker Space at ArtStarts is on Saturday, October 5! Visit our the Gallery page for more details or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to see the behind-the-scenes progress of this new exhibition. 



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