For this issue, we wanted a fresh set of eyes to take a look at what’s happening in Columbus with those who are blending the world of art with technology. Though the author of this feature, Kent Grosswiler, has been immersed in the arts in Columbus for decades–he’s a talented drummer who has played for several bands over the years and is currently enjoying an exciting and creative venture into painting–he wasn’t familiar with this community of artists and arts organizations and the work they’re doing. Grosswiler happily dove in to learn more and to share his perspective.
By Kent Grosswiler
Foundry and factory are words that evoke images of the industrial revolution. They’re also the second half of the monikers of two of Columbus’ finest innovative and creative organizations that blend art and technology. When it comes to the arts, a handful of mediums immediately come to mind whose creative processes are relatively easy to grasp; music, writing, painting and sculpting. Stirring serious technological elements into the creative pot often can make the recipe too daunting for many. After spending some time with the fabulous folks at both the Columbus Idea Foundry and The Fuse Factory, I’m here to testify—there’s nothing in this mix of art and technology for anyone to feel leery about.
Whether you’re a casual hobbyist who wants to build a birdhouse or an inventor who wants to build the latest state of the art, high tech robot, the Columbus Idea Foundry can accommodate you. If you have an idea for a cutting-edge, robotic birdhouse that you want to build, patent and market, they can accommodate you as well. As I found out, the Columbus Idea Foundry can accommodate just about any creative endeavor—and they do so with enthusiasm and a large smile.
The Columbus Idea Foundry is the largest makerspace in the world. That’s right, the…entire…world. What is a makerspace you ask? Simply put, makerspaces are community centers with tools. According to makerspace.com, these centers combine manufacturing equipment, community and education for the purposes of enabling community members to design, prototype and create manufactured works that wouldn’t be possible to create with the resources available to individuals working alone.
On June 1, I attended the ribbon cutting ceremony for the Idea Foundry’s new location at 421 W. State Street in Franklinton. The event included
some special touches: ice cream made with liquid nitrogen, homemade draft sarsaparilla dispensed from a custom-made, aftermarket, pickup truck tailgate that had been fitted with taps, and Mayor Coleman cut through a diamond plate aluminum ribbon with a plasma torch. It was exciting but a little overwhelming.
To learn more about their facility and mission, I made a second trip to the Idea Foundry to meet with Alex Bandar, founder and CEO—also a recipient of the Greater Columbus Arts Council’s 2011 Emerging Arts Leader Award. Joining us was Casey McCarty, chief operations officer. Both Bandar and McCarty proved more than willing to break this whole art and technology thing down into easily digestible pieces.
The Columbus Idea Foundry is one stop shopping from ideation through creation and ending at marketing. Let’s start with gear and facilities. As far as tools and various other means for creating, their equipment runs the full spectrum from old world craft to the latest modern tech. They have a full woodshop; a full metal shop, a blacksmith’s forge or smithy; a wet room for tile cutting, painting or clay; and a warm glass studio for stained glass, slumping, draping or fusing. They have facilities for jewelry making and metal casting. They have a 3D printer from a local company, a laser cutter and engraver, a CNC ShopBot (a precision cutting, carving and drilling machine) and facilities for working with electronics. They can also help source materials for projects when necessary.
Use of their equipment begins with classes, which Bandar described as being “theory light and practice heavy.”
“We just want to make sure everyone can play in the sandbox.” Bandar also described the space as “a Montessori school for adults.” Classes run from $45 to $100.
Membership is optional and not required to take classes, but for just $35 a month, there are some great benefits. Members get 24/7 access to the facilities as well as discounts towards additional classes. Once trained at a station, various tools can be used for at hourly rates that run between $5 and $35.
Membership benefits don’t end there. The Idea Foundry regularly holds events where members can sell their wares. They have quarterly open
houses and in 2013 there were 15 different public events. McCarty noted that many of their members have been able to successfully leave their day jobs in order to pursue their creative ventures on a full time basis. For people hoping to go that route, the Idea Foundry can assist with logos, websites, marketing and DIY business promotions. The education towards complete self sufficiency is available. For those members who would prefer to spend their time swinging hammers, welding, or whatever it is that their projects entails, folks are there who can carry out the marketing project elements. Idea Foundry can handle everyone from strictly idea people to those who want to learn to be 100% DIY.
For those interested in learning how to be more tech savvy, there are a wide variety of classes in the ballpark of computer software and programming.
It’s important to note that an “all in” mentality isn’t necessary to be able to benefit from the Idea Foundry’s facility. Anyone can take classes regardless of their intentions towards future membership. A large part of their mission is to empower individuals to reach their goals in any capacity they can. The Foundry can handle any individual at any spot along the spectrum—from beginners and those interested in DIY projects, to people who excel at dreaming up ideas and concepts and need those who have the skills to knock out the prototypes.
The Columbus Idea Foundry’s facility houses more than just an endlessly amazing array of tools and opportunities. They’ve worked hard to establish a strong community environment.
“We’re more than just a workshop,” Bandar pointed out. “We provide invaluable networking and the community here is vastly more important than our tools.”
The building is abuzz with different people working on various projects and someone is always available to provide a different view for
troubleshooting through a hurdle in another’s particular project. There are currently between 150 and 170 members and the Idea Foundry maintains a very active internal email list. Throw in the aforementioned marketing assistance, access to patent lawyers and material sourcing, the concept of the Idea Foundry as one stop shopping for getting it all done becomes more concrete.
The Columbus Idea Foundry matches every bit of tech heaviness with equal parts humanity. Empowering the surrounding neighborhood community is just as important to the Idea Foundry as empowering the individual and their interior community. Their new digs, former site of The Godman Shoe Company, were acquired in an arrangement with the Franklinton Development Association (FDA) that ensures the money exchanged stays in Franklinton. The Foundry is invested in continuing to build a strong neighborhood partnership with the FDA that will contribute to the revitalization of the community for years. Together, the FDA, the Columbus Idea Foundry, the 400 West Rich space, and other ventures new to the neighborhood are working to ensure there will always be affordable housing and spaces for artists and businesses in Franklinton. The partnership aspires to create a new model called “creative place making” that can be used nationwide.
Bandar said, “We’re very social forward. Jim Sweeney, executive director of the FDA, likes to think of the artists being marines to help turn the neighborhood around.”
With that eye on the future and an openness to try out a new collective business model, Bandar added that the Idea Foundry is interested in eventually hosting summer camps for kids as well as maintaining a dialogue with parents for other ideas as to how they could benefit children.
To further their mission, the Columbus Idea Foundry is embarking on an ongoing fundraising campaign. They need $1.25 million to finish their second floor—a space they plan to use for 20 more professional studios as well as an event space for large seminars, lectures, events for school kids and creative, fun community events. Developing this space will further allow them to be a destination for creative and entrepreneurial people to gather and network. Having this multi-purpose space will also ensure that as they grow as an organization, they’ll have the physical space sufficient for equipment and breathing room for instructors and members to work.
A large basement in the facility is another area that could accommodate different kinds of events. The Idea Foundry currently sponsors a high school robotics team and the basement would be a perfect place for the team to practice with their creations. Bandar wants to eventually use the basement space to host a robot fight club in front of a live audience.
To learn more about the Idea Foundry, or if you’d like to contribute to their various fund-raising projects, visit their website at www.columbusideafoundry.com. Or contact them directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Another high tech local entity that maintains a passion for community is a recipient of an Arts Council Project Support grant—The Fuse Factory. Although significantly smaller in size they’re no less capable of having impact. According to their website at thefusefactory.org, they are an art and technology initiative focused on cultivating artistic production, research and experimentation with digital media and electronic tools. Their purpose is to function as an incubator for innovation, interaction, collaboration, critical thought, diversity and artistic exploration.
To date, The Fuse Factory has been using two locations for their functions—both in the Clintonville neighborhood area of Columbus: Wild Goose Creative has hosted their Frequency Fridays live music series and It Looks Like It’s Open studio and gallery has hosted workshops. They’re currently moving the monthly Frequency Friday events to It Looks Like It’s Open at 13 E. Tulane Road in order to centralize the entirety of their various programming.
As far as workshops, Fuse Factory’s offerings are as endless as they are varied and they have something for every age and proficiency level. There are workshops on how to build homemade musical instruments both with and without pickups (an electromagnetic device that detects vibrations). There’s an introduction to pure data which in simpler terms teaches folks how to use open source sound and image processing software. This software is free for anyone to utilize and improve upon. There’s an introduction to Arduino which is an open source microprocessor. There are also meditation and sound workshops.
Dr. Alison Colman, Fuse Factory’s founder and CEO said it best, “We empower people to use tech in any way they see fit.”
There’s that word again—empower. Again, beneath all of the complicated gear, this is an organization about people empowering people. It’s very human.
“Exactly,” Colman elaborated, “musicians and artists humanize tech. It’s what makes what they do so special.”
The Fuse Factory strives to offer workshops that are as family friendly as possible. Past offerings that cater to kids include making glowy (glow-in-
the-dark) monsters and different sized hopper bots. A circuit bending workshop struck me as appealing to kids of any age. This particular workshop involved taking apart electronic toys and using their inner workings to make musical instruments. They also have a mobile lab that can take the workshops to smaller groups at other locations as well. There are workshops geared towards beginners. Overall the workshops are direct and very hands on. Giving people the chance to dig in and actually have a go at what they’re learning better facilitates a solid grasping of new information. Colman’s background in education is very beneficial in this area. She added, “A lot of this stuff is a lot more approachable and enjoyable than people would think.”
In addition to hands on workshops, the Fuse Factory presents Frequency Fridays, a monthly live electronic music series. I attended June’s offering and the four acts ran a spectrum from catchy and accessible to somewhat jarring. I talked to some of the people in attendance and learned that each show in the Frequency Fridays series can be as drastically different from one another as the individual artists who were onstage this particular evening. That night’s artists traveled to Columbus from Chicago, California and as far as France to perform.
TradeMark Gunderson of The Evolution Control Committee informed me that The Fuse Factory is extremely dedicated to experimental music and performance.
“Fuse Factory booked me a number of times before I moved back to Columbus. I was always well accommodated and they’re great to work with,” Gunderson said. “Now that I’m living here I see every show I can. They’re unpredictable in style, but always reliably excellent performances of technology and sound art.”
I also spoke with FBK who performed with The Fallen that evening. He provided this glowing review, “One of the greatest things about performing at the Fuse Factory’s Frequency Fridays events is that I tend to meet people from all over the world. Some of the shows have featured performers who are now doing even bigger things on a national and international scale, like Author & Punisher and Truus de Groot. The environment allows for an ‘anything-goes’ type of music, from well organized beat driven techno to the farthest reaches of abstract noise, and it’s a beautiful thing to see that level of diversity in Columbus. We (The Fallen) keep attending and performing with FF because we love the organizers, and the warm reception from the attendees and also from the other artists there. After this last show, we spent about two hours talking with Philippe Petit (the performer from France) about music, life and travel. It’s an experience that cannot be duplicated anywhere else in this city or many others.”
It was indeed a community experience. Performers were just as excited by what others were doing as they were to be on the stage themselves. They were supportive of each other, curious and excited about each other’s work and about new sounds and styles being created and explored. For a form of music that might seem inaccessible to some, the personalities of those involved were extremely friendly and approachable.
Colman, who was every bit as excited as everyone else there, said, “What we’re doing is amazing and I really want to share it with everyone.” She then added, “I realize what we do is different. It’s like green eggs and ham. Try it. You may like it.”
To learn more about taking a workshop or to check out their events calendar, visit their website, thefusefactory.org.
For all of the latest state of the art equipment, high tech gadgetry and complicated circuitry involved, I found real deal compassionate and caring human beings to be at the heart of both organizations. “Empower others” seemed to be their universal battle cry. The interest and enthusiasm for other humans and their endeavors felt like something out of the most altruistic of social work experiences. Bearing witness to that much heart being involved, the tech was no longer intimidating or overwhelming.
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