Vietnamese native Vinnie Vu, a programmer at Albany’s Water, Gas & Light utility, is president of the local Makerspace Albany collective. The group provides space and tools for creative individuals working on individual or group projects. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)
ALBANY — They’re the ultimate do-it-yourselfers, area artists, electricians, carpenters, woodworkers, electronics experts, mechanics … craftsmen — and women — drawn by one of this country’s most enduring principles: being doers rather than observers.
Together this group of mostly twenty- and thirtysomethings is turning Makerspace Albany into one of the most dynamic collectives in the region, a collective that is making its mark on primarily underground arts and volunteerism efforts that are gradually becoming parts of the mainstream.
Founded just over a year ago by Water, Gas & Light computer programmer and Vietnamese native Vinnie Vu and a group of five other like-minded DIYers, Makerspace Albany has grown into a 20-member collective bent on absorbing and sharing skills required for various creative endeavors. The “makerspace” is the location where these souls with common interests meet to create, collaborate and just socialize.
In Makerspace Albany’s case, that space is 920 W. Broad Ave., in an old hangar the group purchased and is turning into a meeting space/garage/workshop.
“This is not something common to Albany; there are makerspace groups all over the country,” Vu said during a recent meeting of the Albany group. “When I moved here, it was hard to find people with common interests. I saw a growing movement with the D’town Arts Coalition, but there are plenty of people who have different kinds of skills, who are not artists.
“I got to know folks like (Makerspace Albany vice president) Gerrad and Ashley Branch who shared similar interests, so six of us met up at my house. Now we have 20 active members and another 40 or so people who are interested in what we’re doing. I think as we become more active in the community, we’ll see an even more active membership.”
In addition to providing a common work space for its members, Makerspace Albany, a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit, also serves as a center for peer learning. Members also provide commonly used tools that allow them to work together on group or individual projects.
Leesburg resident Jay Francisco, a Makerspace Albany member, was one of the first in the community to fully grasp and utilize the group dynamic.
“After Vinnie explained the concept of the group, I saw there was a bigger picture involved,” Francisco said. “I’ve actually used members of the group in building my new home, in security, sound and other areas. Anyone can buy bracelets and baked goods to support a group; I wanted to do more.
“This is the kind of group that can really have an impact on a community, whether through volunteer work or large and small projects like what they’re doing for my home. These guys have the ability to take ideas and make them reality.”
The Makerspace Albany group has focused mostly on community volunteer work during its first year. And while the purchase and planned rehab of the West Broad facility will take up a lot of the group’s time in the weeks and months to come — a mechanic’s garage complete with an auto lift, wood- and metalworking benches and artist spaces are part of the plan — the group still has a number of volunteer and fundraising projects on its to-do list.
Makerspace Albany’s members will set up and man an information booth in Tift Park from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. during Saturday’s Play Day and will provide a kids’ water area complete with a mister and water slide. That afternoon, a wine-and-design fundraiser (cost $30, preregistration required) is planned from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Our Daily Bread downtown. Participants are encouraged to bring a bottle of wine to enjoy while creating a painting under the direction of a local artist.
Wine-and-design events are also scheduled Oct. 19 at Our Daily Bread and Nov. 6 at Java the Hut in downtown Leesburg (both from 5 p.m.-9 p.m.), and members will build, set up and manage obstacles that are part of the Oct. 26 Zombie Run.
“I think this is a groundbreaking group, something Albany’s never had before,” Ashley Branch said. “We don’t exclude anybody, and we’re all willing to help out anyone else. The coolest thing, though, is it’s not just access. Everyone is willing to share their knowledge, to teach others.”
Member Pamela Barkley, whose passion is “repurposing” items, found Makerspace Albany right up her alley.
“Somebody, and I don’t even know who it was, sent me information about the group and said, ‘You would like this,’” Barkley, the group’s “grandma,” said. “I was immediately struck by the passion and vision of the members. This is something Albany needs. There are about umpteen things I’m planning to do with the group.”
Other members see Makerspace as an outlet for community involvement. Husband/wife activists Jason and Tami McCoy admit that they bring “no particular skills” to the group but that it provides them an opportunity to “put our positive energy to use.” Ross Evans has continued his volunteer efforts through Makerspace.
“When I was in college, I got involved with things like Boy Scouts and Habitat for Humanity,” Evans said. “Once I graduated, I wanted to continue to do those types of things. This group has offered me opportunities to do that. And down the road, when we get our shop fixed up, we’ll have a place to pursue all kinds of interests.”
Persons interested in joining or finding out more about Makerspace Albany may contact Angela Johnson at (229) 869-8935 or online at www.makerspacealbany.com or https://www.facebook.com/MakerspaceAlbany.