Makerspaces around the city have fallen on tough times in the past few years.
3rd Ward shut down, as did The Sculpture Gym, after its Fishtown building was sold. University City’s Department of Making + Doing disbanded. Though there are new entrants to the space, only a few have prevailed longterm: Washington Avenue’s NextFab, Lancaster Avenue’s Hacktory and hackerspace Hive76, the latter of which was forced to move into a new space after its building got shut down by the city. NextFab opened a new location in Wilmington, while The Hacktory moved to new location after its Department of Making + Doing location closed its doors. (We’ll note that it’s not a perfect comparison and that “makerspace” is a flawed catch-all term, as each space has, or had, a different model but all of them shared a goal of building a community around building, tinkering and making.)
Community metalworking studio Metal Incorporated is working to secure a different fate: it just moved into to a bigger space in Port Richmond at 2609 East Cambria Street, and president and CEO Joe Campbell says the space isn’t resting.
In addition to its studio space for independent artists and its commissions in architectural ironworking and manufacturing, Metal Incorporated is also on track to adding welding classes in the spring, thanks to administrative support recently offered by the nonprofit umbrella Philadelphia CultureWorks Trust.
Despite its apparent success, Campbell is frank about the model: “It’s an awful business model. I don’t recommend anyone go for it. … You’re lucky if you break even.”
Metal Incorporated has its roots in a Fishtown metalworking studio called The Carbon Collective that Technically Philly covered in 2013. There, Campbell worked alongside two other colleagues and Carbon Collective founder Dave Wade Brann. They all eventually left for other career opportunities and Campbell ended up taking over the Fishtown space. “It’s been a crazy couple years,” said Campbell, who works in mostly architectural metalwork, including sculptures and signage in Center City.
Metal Incorporated has since grown out of the Fishtown studio and recently moved into its new Port Richmond location.
“At a peak we had eight blacksmiths,” Campbell says of the original spot. “That was a wild time. We had so many irons in there that the fire was getting cold.” He aims to have the new space open to the public in March.
Campbell says Metal Incorporated features a model that’s partly for profit and partly for the community — it’ dedicated to supporting its members. Profit from the commissioned architectural ironwork funds community studio expenses, and extra space in the workshop is offered to the member artists to store and use any tools. “It’s kinda two different businesses, but we wrap them together in a way that balances each other out,” Campbell says.
It seems like a valuable opportunity for amateur metalmakers. As Campbell explains, “We’re the stepping stone between a normal makerspace and their own shop.” It’s one step closer to “democratizing the metalworking landscape,” a mission that the shop’s previous owner, Brann, also had, and offering potential metalworking artists the space to develop their skills.
Metal Incorporated sometimes passes on some of its commissions to studio members. “If it’s in the off hours or something smaller, we’ll give that for the studio members,” Campbell says. Studio projects are diverse. They range from custom lightings to railings to medium-sized sculptures. Even Damascus steel knives.
Thanks to its recent addition to the Philadelphia CultureWorks Trust, Metal Incorporated will add community welding classes in the spring. “It’s not like the class you come to and get your certified papers from, but … they can get a pace for what welding is like,” says Campbell. Classes might be project-based, such as building a table or ax garden rake, or structured by subjects like welding fabrication and and introductory sculpture welding.
When asked about the success of the community studio, Campbell credits his predecessor: “One of the things [founder Brann] wanted was a community metalworking space. He wanted to show what it means to make something.”
And Campbell has made his own contributions as well. “I’d like to think we offer good quality work and with that we’ve gotten a lot of referrals for commissioned pieces. That’s kinda what’s driven it.”
If you’re interested in studio space, prices start at a $75 day rate and go up to $400 per month for 24 hour access. Get in touch for more details.-30-