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Makerspace tech-hub quadruples membership in first year

At the end of an alleyway on Green St., down a set of stairs and through two sets of doors lies Ithaca Generator, a space for thinkers and makers in the community. Wires dangle from the ceiling, the sound of staccato typing punctuates enthusiastic chatter and tools cover the walls.

The Ithaca Generator, one of over 300 makerspaces in the United States, celebrated their one-year anniversary on Friday. The non-profit, volunteer-run organization has quadrupled from its original 12 members to 49 and provides a space for its members to work and collaborate on projects of interest to them, from computer programming and product design to pottery and woodworking. Entrepreneurial ventures such as upstate New York’s first electric bike store, Boxy Bikes, and hardware companies like Wicked Device LLC have been born from the makerspace.
Like-minded people with different skill-sets work together in a social space, member Victor Aprea said.

“It kind of goes to show you that this had always been sort of this a sub-culture in the United States,” he said. “It’s sort of now just coming into the mainstream. People who like to tinker and make things, they don’t have to hide in their basements. They can come into the community and work together to make it happen.”

The idea for a public place for makers began as hackerspaces in Germany in 1995 before spreading to the U.S. about ten years after. The rise of MAKE Magazine in 2005 launched a maker movement, encouraging people to design and repair their own products. Product designer Xanthe Matychak joined Ithaca Generator after following the rise of the maker movement. The opportunities makerspaces provide to educate the community in small-scale production and on how things are made is important, she said.

“It’s just a matter of people getting their hands on these tools and realizing you can make stuff you can normally buy, or can repair stuff instead of throwing it away,” she said.

The organization charges a monthly membership fee and provides access to tools such as a drill press, a bandsaw and a 3D printer. Volunteer instructors offer several different classes including ones on using Arduino microcontrollers, developing video games and discussing creative thinking. The education component helps kids and adults in the community get hands-on experience with science and technology. Volunteer and member Dick Crepeau said watching kids in the community get excited about science and technology is one of the best parts of the Ithaca Generator.

“The times I pick to be here are when they are having classes for kids,” he said. “Just seeing these possibilities and seeing how kids grow into doing something like that just because it’s exciting.”

The group has weekly product review nights where members give each other feedback on their projects as well as weekly Geek Nights to promote open-source software. Crepeau, who is in charge of membership, says the collaboration and volunteer spirit of Ithaca Generator is what has kept it growing during its first year.

“It’s what people contribute,” he said. “So when you ask me what project I’m working on, I’m working on the Ithaca Generator project wherever I can help out.”

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