Museum Studies at Tufts University

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Science in Museums: MakerSpaces and Museums

by columnist Cira Brown

Last month, Artisan’s Asylum, a community craft studio in Somerville (and one of the largest in the world), held a weekend conference entitled, How To Build A MakerSpace. The “Make Movement” is borne out of the Do It Yourself philosophy, which empowers individuals to learn fabrication skills, both technical and digital. Artisan’s Asylum holds classes on skills ranging from TIG welding to sewing, programming to bicycle maintenance, and provides many of the tools needed for these tasks. The Asylum also rents out space, mostly in 50-100 square foot allocations, and low walls are used as dividers. This arrangement creates a very open environment, resulting in a dynamic community where you can walk around and see a host of various projects, all in different stages of completion. There is even an ongoing project to create a 4000-pound, 18 foot wide, ridable hexapod robot named Stompy.

So, more generally, what is a MakerSpace? Taken from the Artisan’s Asylum website, they are:

“…community centers with tools. Makerspaces combine manufacturing equipment, community, and education for the purposes of enabling community members to design, prototype and create manufactured works that wouldn’t be possible to create with the resources available to individuals working alone. These spaces can take the form of loosely-organized individuals sharing space and tools, for-profit companies, non-profit corporations, organizations affiliated with or hosted within schools, universities or libraries, and more. All are united in the purpose of providing access to equipment, community, and education, and all are unique in exactly how they are arranged to fit the purposes of the community they serve.

Makerspaces represent the democratization of design, engineering, fabrication and education. They are a fairly new phenomenon, but are beginning to produce projects with significant national impacts; notable projects and companies to emerge from makerspaces include the Pebble Watch (a programmable watch whose team is the recipient of the largest Kickstarter campaign in history), MakerBot (creators of a low-cost 3D printer that’s revolutionizing the entire rapid prototyping industry), and Square (a painless payment gateway enabling small businesses to collect money easily worldwide), just to name a few.”

At the How To Build A MakerSpace event, keynote speaker Dale Dougherty (editor and publisher of Make Magazine and co-founder of Maker Faire) mentioned the importance of forging a relationship with museums several times. Museums already have an established presence in the community and many museum missions overlap with the goals of makerspaces. The museum realm has also been eying the Maker Movement, as evidenced by these recent articles and conference discussions:

Talking Points: Museums, Libraries, and Makerspaces
by The Institute of Museums and Library Services, September 2012

What’s the Point of a Museum Maker Space?
Discussion Panel at the Museum Computer Network Conference, November 2012

Unstaffed Maker Spaces? Don’t Event Think About It!
Museum Commons blog, January 2013

Maker Space: Cool New Attraction at New York Hall of Science
Mommy Poppins blog, April 2012

Not only do MakerSpaces provide a great extension for educational programming, but the potential for exhibit fabrication and prototyping is radically altered as well. I know of several people at Artisan’s Asylum who were contracted by museums to build exhibit components, and the Museum of Science even rents a space as well. I am even using the 3D Printer at the Asylum to create my own custom spinning tops for an educational demonstration on gyroscopic navigation at the MIT Museum. I’ve designed these tops with differing moments of inertia to provide visitors with an interactive experience on the concepts of angular momentum and precession. Maker Spaces enable and empower museum educators and exhibit developers to relatively quickly and cheaply augment their educational offerings. In my next column I’ll be describing this endeavor more in depth.

I believe that this is only the beginning of the overlap between MakerSpaces and museum education/exhibition fabrication. Just this evening, in my Exhibition Planning class, I learned that one of my classmates was helping organize a Maker Faire at the Children’s Museum of New Hampshire. There are many exciting and innovative happenings in this field, and I will be providing further examples in columns to follow.

As an additional note, I should also mention that I am a member and renter of Artisan’s Asylum and I’m happy to give tours to those who are interested! Contact me at CiraLouise AT gmail DOT com. The class listing for each month can also be found on the Asylum website.


  1. Thanks for the informative post. I’d love to hear more about what you are doing. Just moved to Western Mass and I’m working to start a makerspace in the Springfield area.

    I’d be very interested in seeing Artisan’s Asylum from a museum perspective.

  2. Hi Jeff, I forwarded your email to Cira to put you two in contact. Glad there’s been a meeting of the minds and good luck with your Makers Space!

  3. Hi Jeff,

    My husband and I are recent transplants to the Western Mass area too and are in the initial stages of a makerspace. We were thinking of trying to create it in our area (Amherst/Hadley/Northampton), but we’d be open to other towns nearby. I know it takes a lot of work to get one off the ground, so it would be great to talk and share ideas, etc. Phillippa, could you possibly give Jeff my email to connect us? Thanks!!

  4. Hi Olive,

    I’ve shot an email to Jeff connecting the two of you. Best of luck with your MakerSpace!


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