Hidden in an alleyway downtown, an unassuming, almost decrepit storage unit where a new organization in Davis has decided to make its home might give off the impression that something simple, or primitive, is happening inside.
But make no mistake about it, the gadget-heads and tech-junkies who’ve inhabited this back-alley hideout are ever-sharpening the cutting edge.
This makeshift laboratory has become the home to Davis Makerspace, a nonprofit community workspace where local inventors, programmers, artists or anyone who makes, really, anything, can share a workbench, toil away at the next Great American Invention or repair just about any gizmo, doo-dad or computer system you could throw at them.
But while they’ve formed this venture — which in some places are referred to as hackerspaces — in part, to act as a resource for the community, the Davis Makerspace proves valuable to the members as well.
“I definitely need the space,” said Jeff Tolentino, a civil engineer who uses the space for building musical instruments and “nerding out” on electronics. “It’s hard … with neighbors, but I can come down here (and work), as long as I’m not burning the place down.”
Naturally, the organization provides many benefits for the group, including sharing the cost of buying or maintaining equipment and tools and sharing the cost of the space itself. Since it was founded last year, the group has grown to about a dozen regular members who chip in each month to keep the operation afloat.
But perhaps the greatest benefit is the community environment that the members have built together, where people can come work, collaborate and bounce ideas off of each other to further their own and their collective innovative efforts.
“Something really cool about it is the ever-changing nature of (the space),” explained Braden Pellett, a board member of Davis Makerspace who enjoys working with immersive virtual reality systems. “Practically speaking, we can share equipment and the space, but (it’s also about) remixing knowledge and remixing the various skill sets.”
On a given day, the shop may be occupied by someone working on a 3D printer — a machine that can be programmed to build physical plastic objects — or futzing with homemade Van de Graaf generators, a gadget that Davis Makerspace member Tim Feldman says was used to generate high voltage for early attempts to “smash the atom” or, in Steve Edberg’s case, messing with music gear.
“The nice thing about this space was that it gave me the opportunity to finish (a project I’d stopped working on),” said Edberg while supping up the fuzzbox for his drum set. “Now I have the chance to work on other things.”
But the space isn’t only for those with technical know-how. Merely having an idea is enough reason to stop by.
“The vision is that people will come here with a great idea and maybe not know how to (turn it into something tangible),” said Nick Weigand, who’s in the process of programming a part for a mini-fridge to keep home-brewed beer at a consistent and cold temperature. ”But hopefully there will be people here who can make that into a reality for them.”
According to Mick Balaban, one of the organization’s directors, the group also hopes to soon offer classes on tools like the 3D printer so that others in the community can begin “making” on their own.
That’s just sort of the spirit of the Davis Makerspace: collaborate and create. From the people, to the gadgets, to the ideas, it’s all about building and sharing in this innovative community.
It’s an idea that certainly lends itself to art as well.
Emily Schleiner, a member who’s hoping to up the female quota in the shop, hopes to promote art through the space.
“I am interested in cultivating an art-focused aspect of the DMS community, through workshops on video-filming/editing, interactive sculpture-building and animation-making, both stop-motion and computer-generated,” Schleiner said in an email.
For more information on the group, visit www.davismakerspace.org. The group also hosts open houses regularly on Fridays from 7 to 9 p.m.
— Reach Tom Sakash at email@example.com or 530-747-8057. Follow him on Twitter at @TomSakash