Where, at 7:30 on a cold Thursday night in Philadelphia, can you find a young industrial designer excitedly sharing his prototype skateboard truck; people making their own electrically heated winter cycling gloves; an inventor seeking entrepreneurship advice for her top secret watch project; a developer working on his free email encryption key; teenagers planning their robot; and a teacher fabricating a novel towel rack for his bathroom?
At Drop-In + Do at the Department of Making + Doing (DM+D), of course. Drop-In + Do is the DM+D’s weekly ‘open’ making night when anyone can stop in with an idea, question, basic curiosity, or a project that they are working on. We have staff on hand to help people build or refine their ideas, but more often than not, participants end up acting as resources for one another. Indeed, amongst the DM+D partners or the participants, it’s hard not to find someone who can answer a question or provide a needed skill, no matter how obscure the need. These types of nights are fairly common in the world of maker spaces but they can often be pretty insular and attended by relatively homogenous groups of people (professionally and socio-economically).
Transcending these traditions is one of the challenges but also the great promises of the space and collaboration that is the Department of Making + Doing. With the diverse backgrounds and audiences of each partner organization, we have a unique opportunity to redefine what a maker space is, who uses it and how it can be leveraged to stimulate a larger culture of making and doing in Philadelphia. To be sure, we are already achieving this at DM+D and have been doing so for months. Regarding attendance alone, people from every strata of life in Philadelphia have participated in a program at DM+D. However, due to varying schedules, the rich overlap of skills, culture and age that we all are striving for has been fleeting thus far.
Last Thursday’s Drop-In + Do was different and an important milestone in the evolution of DM+D because of the true diversity of the participants and their interests. As the visibility of and thereby the attendance at Drop-In + Do grows, we will need to figure out how to encourage greater interaction amongst participants without diminishing the general spirit of simply dropping in to do. We are also developing a Made At DM+D ‘wall’ on our new website and at DM+D to help inspire, connect and also visually measure the impact of our efforts. These design and tech trophy cases or ‘walls of fame’ will not only raise the bar on what’s produced at DM+D but also help make our broader vision of making and doing ‘cool’. Many maker spaces thrive on their own narrow definition of ‘coolness’ to provide the social glue that helps them succeed and there isn’t anything particularly wrong with that, we just know that we can expect more. Lots of people making great things together, that they couldn’t do otherwise, is the new ‘cool’ and we’re happy to be wrestling with how to make that a daily reality.