Makerspaces. I have no actual experience with them but I had heard about the Makerspace Movement and had a very general idea about it. It turns out that I had no idea the extent of the movement or how far-reaching the effects of a makerspace could be. It all started with a story on NPR about how some high-tech companies have created artist-in-residency programs. Some hire the artists to install art on the campus and encourage interaction with employees. But the focus company in this story was Autodesk, a company in San Francisco whose tagline is “Ready to Make Anything.” Does that sound fun, or what?!
Tools and Technology
From what I understand, Autodesk designs tools and other technology that help other companies make the things they want to make. The NPR story explains that twice a year, 16 artists receive a stipend to spend 4 months using the tools and technology of the company. During this time, they collaborate with the engineers and get the opportunity to create whatever they can dream. What struck me as so beautiful is that it is a symbiotic relationship.
The artists learn about and get to use technology to expand what is possible for them in their artwork. The engineers get to see new applications for their technology. This challenges them to improve their technology so it can realize whatever the artists have imagined. The engineers and the artists end up pushing one another and expanding their own limitations. As I watched a promotional video about the program, it brought chills to my body and a mist to my eyes. I watched these artists completely engaged and filled with wonder as they delighted in what they could create. I watched them collaborating with the engineers and learning from one another. That is what the relationship between students and educators could be. This is what education could and should look like.
Autodesk is basically a giant Makerspace with some of the coolest technology around that not only these selected artists but members of other companies can utilize. In another company video, the presenter explained that Autodesk believes in the importance of these kinds of collaborations because they see an area of growth in our economy as companies who can solve real-world problems like issues related to climate change and serve their shareholders at the same time. He stated that companies are able to reduce their prototype phase from 2 years to 4 months using their technology and the support of their engineers. That means they can be more efficient and solve more problems in less time.
All of that got me to thinking. This is just another example of why we need to be cultivating the creativity of our students! How? Through quality art education. The artists’ ability to think outside the box and imagine things that don’t yet exist push engineers to make or redesign tools. Second, this brings me back to recurring issues I have with things as they typically are in schools. Things like the whole breadth over depth issue. Or the whole “we can’t do anything else until these kids conquer reading, writing and ‘rithmatic.”
I would love to see teachers given more flexibility so students would have time to just play and investigate. To then actually engage in the whole design process in an authentic way. To ascertain the needs of a group. Design some solutions. Create prototypes. Test them with that group to see if they did indeed find a solution to the problem. If not, to be able to go back and redesign multiple times. This way students can experience authentic failure and use what they learn from that failure to inform their next design. In fact, one of the artists said, “Failure is the way we move forward.”
So many times I get discouraged when I am really excited by an idea and then get brought down by the obstacles presented by our educational system. The way we implement accountability. The lack of flexibility in our curriculum and the implementation schedule. Especially the lack of funds to support exciting educational opportunities like Makerspaces and art studios and the professionals who help make them work to serve our students. Then I have to remind myself to embrace the Makerspace motto, “If you can imagine it, you can make it.” Calling all makers and artists to unite and create our future!
Deirdre is a teaching artist and AI coach in the San Diego public schools dedicated to helping classroom teachers make arts an integral part of their teaching. Deirdre has an MEd in Arts Integration and over twenty years of classroom and performing arts teaching experience. Email Deirdre.