Davidson College Makerspaces

Since this week’s readings (here and here) focused on hackerspaces/hacklabs/makerspaces/etc, I wanted to consider Davidson College’s own makerspaces. From my understanding, there are two makerspaces on campus: Studio M (found in the basement of South Chambers) and a studio space in the basement of the visual arts center. There are also computer labs located in the basement of Belk dorm, the basement of Chambers, and the basement of the library (there are other smaller computer “labs” found on campus but I want to focus mostly on these facilities).

I want to reflect on a recent experience I had at Studio M. I wanted to use the microchips and circuitry found in toys for an art project but I didn’t have the tools to uncover them and I figured Studio M would have the tools. I go there, hauling a Sesame Street toddler toy, an easy bake oven, and other trinkets that I needed to take apart. There was only one person in the room, a student, that was overseeing the place. He was helpful enough: he gave me the screw drivers and pliers I needed to disassemble the toys and also gave me spare parts of an old Mac he had taken apart to tinker with. After I got what I needed, he recorded which parts I had taken from the Makerspace and which tools I had used, and I went on my way. Looking back, I realize how… cold the space was. And isolated. And had an oppressing atmosphere. I think the location of this space determined the kind of ambiance that’s created and by putting it in the basement secluded from the rest of the campus doesn’t help foster creativity/innovation.

Similarly, the makerspace in the VAC is tucked away in the basement in a rather eerie hallway (especially at night), creating a claustrophobic atmosphere. Similar environments can be encountered in the labs located in the basements. Perhaps these locations were intentional, perhaps these were the only spaces available, but regardless, I argue that this idea of hackerspaces hidden underground continues to perpetuate a hacker/hacktivist/artist identity that’s rooted isolation, immobility, darkness, and independence that’s completely against the idea of hackerspaces. The second article discusses care as an essential part of maintaining a healthy work space and I maintain that if we want these spaces to serve as gathering spots, it needs to have the resources to allow for that. For example, many of these spaces only have vending machines to provide “nourishment”; these machines are often stocked with caffeinated drinks, enabling students to work well into the night (following the stereotypical hacker trope). The makerspace in the VAC just had the vending machines removed, so there’s no way to refuel unless you bring your own.

Regarding gender, I don’t believe Studio M finds an equal audience. To begin with, I don’t think many people are aware of the facilities and resources Studio M offers. Coupled with the trend of mostly men being tech savvy/inclined, Studio M then mostly serves a male demographic (that also had the resources to delve into technology). I think to shift this limited catering, Studio M should host open houses or classes or events to bring awareness to and to spark interest in students coming from different backgrounds. It also needs to adapt a more open/welcoming presence, one that’s not dominated by harsh white fluorescent lighting contrasted with the dank feel of a basement.