Built in 1920, the two-story, 34,000-square-foot building at 1400 Greenmount has been a shipping distribution center, storage hold and, recently, a food bank. In the fall of 2016, it will take on a new life as a makerspace called Open Works.
Open Works will have studios, classrooms, various workshops, a café and a store for in-house creators to sell their wares. It’s part of Baltimore’s growing roster of makerspaces, which is garnering national attention.
“We want this to lift the community,” says Mac Maclure, managing director of the Baltimore Arts Realty Corporation, the organization developing Open Works.
Even with this altruistic goal, tensions are still real. Immediately before touring the future location of Open Works for this article, youth threw rocks at the front of the building breaking some of the glass and unnerving those inside. Those that witnessed the act said that the youth invoked the police-involved death of Freddie Gray during their frustrated act of vandalism.
Maclure and Will Holman, the project’s coordinator, understand the social winds in Baltimore, but reiterate that Open Works is about a brighter future for the entire community. Maclure hopes that once the facility is operational those same youth will be able to come into the building and take advantage of their unique programming, instead of throwing rocks.
Located in the southeast corner of Baltimore’s Station North Arts District, Maclure thinks that this project will help the city’s aspiring creative class and the neighborhood it calls home. “It’s a grassroots way to build from the bottom up,” he said.
The need to incubate Baltimore’s creative and advanced manufacturing economy is apparent to Maclure: “There aren’t any big companies coming to Baltimore, we have to build local businesses.”
To reinforce this point, Holman adds that the only type of manufacturing growing in Baltimore city is small manufacturing, which is defined by having fewer than 50 employees.
Open Works is betting on this growth in small, advanced manufacturing. The space will have seven different workshops including a 12-seat computer lab with drafting software, a CAD cam, Creative Suite and motion-graphics software. Other workshops will include 3D printers with imaging software, soldering and other tools to create integrated circuits, a digital media lab with output devices and photo-quality printers. There will also be wood and metal shops with CNC routing and laser cutting machines.
To capture a diverse cross-section of entrepreneurs and artisans, Open Works will have a low cost of entry. One 50-square-foot studio cubicle, of which there will be 150 total, will cost only $100 a month with no contract. Access to the workshops mentioned above will be $125 a month. Subsidies through donations and grants will keep prices low.
Holman likens their financial model to the YMCA, a nonprofit that has user fees and subsidized programming. With a $10 million price tag, the Baltimore-based Robert W. Deutsch Foundation and the Abell Foundation are prominent funders of this project, as are the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development and the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development. The Baltimore Arts Realty Corporation is also approved for a loan, guaranteed by the Deutsch Foundation, through M&T Bank.
Beyond being a place for makers to come and build out their vision, Holman and Maclure see the space as a community center. This means providing classes on how to use the facility’s various machines and technology plus other activities. While not creating curriculum themselves, Open Works will partner with groups around the city to provide educational programming. They anticipate contracting up to 50 teaching positions, providing an opportunity to employ some of Open Works makers. The hope is to provide resources for all segments of Baltimore.
“Open Works will be an equitable, inclusive, and open space,” says Maclure. “This doesn’t happen by accident.”
Cognizant of both recent and historical tensions around both race and class in Baltimore, Maclure and Holman are clear that they are not interlopers taking advantage of low property costs in a gentrifying area of Baltimore city. They point to the fact that there is no café or meeting spot on their stretch of Greenmount Avenue, and that Open Works will be able to provide both.
Open Works plans to start taking reservations for space in early 2016. Doors are scheduled to open that fall.
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