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The Case For a Makerspace in Downtown Fresno

Written by Janelle Smith Ozeran

Fresno Ideaworks, established in 2012 in downtown Fresno, California, is a source of a myriad of tools and creative opportunities. But, like makers everywhere, we also value our friendships, collaborative projects, the comfort of our “third space”, and the therapeutic value of getting our hands dirty as we mold clay, wood, metal, textiles, electronics, or plastics into something new and wonderful. 

Over eight years Fresno Ideaworks has grown from a small group of friendly hackers into a community workshop full of curious and creative people, eager to learn and hone new skills and share them with anyone who comes through our doors.  But since the 16th of March 2020 our doors have been closed to all regular activity – a crushing situation for people who come to the Shop for any reason, and a threatening blow to our survival as a non-profit, all-volunteer, member-driven organization. 

We immediately joined the ranks of makerspaces all over the country, manufacturing PPE for healthcare professionals and other essential workers. Collaborating with two other non-profits in Fresno – Root Access Hackerspace, and Pi Shop Fresno – we designed, manufactured, and delivered more than 4000 pieces of PPE by the first week of May to everyone from hospital nurses to bus drivers, and from mail carriers to food service workers.  We are very proud of our role in helping protect our neighbors and caregivers, but we are also very proud of the collaborative effort. We are already trying to imagine what new projects we can undertake together when our spaces are open again! 

Meanwhile, we have lost nearly 15% of our membership, and watching our family shrink is breaking our hearts. A goal for the immediate future is to establish a sponsorship fund for those former members facing financial hardship because of the COVID-19 experience. Although our membership fees are among the lowest for similar spaces, they are suddenly an impossible luxury for some, even though the emotional health benefits of making and creating would go a long way to ease the anxiety those same people are experiencing. 

We also have to focus more intently on the facility upgrades that will enable us to welcome more members with a greater diversity of skills and abilities throughout the entire space. Maintaining a historic building is already a huge challenge (one we makers welcome), but opening the whole structure to more makers will require the help of angels that embrace our mission. Downtown Fresno, and our Cultural Arts District neighborhood in particular, have suffered the adversity of economic downturn for several decades now. Ideaworks is relentlessly dedicated to being part of the growth of both the economic health of the neighborhood, and, through skill-building and fellowship, part of the economic and emotional well-being of everyone who comes through our doors. 

Please help however you can. Donations to Ideaworks general fund can also be made through our website at https://ideaworksmakerspaces.org/Donate, through Venmo at @Fresno-Ideaworksthrough, or through Givebutter (https://givebutter.com/KbPYYR). And thank you, in advance, from all of us at Fresno Ideaworks.

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