Q & A with Riley Harrison of Hack Factory
For the first time this year, thanks to our innovative local conference organizer, Andrea Steudel, and in the spirit of "Leading Creatively," NAMAC is delighted to incorporate an open-source, hacker space into the daily proceedings of NAMAC 2012. This space will be organized and led by the community of makers based at Hack Factory, a project of Twin Cities Maker.
NAMAC spoke with Riley Harrison, board member of Twin Cities Maker, experienced bowyer and bow-making instructor, and NAMAC 2012 Hack Factory facilitator, about the maker/hacker movement and the potential synergies between this movement and the media arts discipline.
Please tell us a bit about what you do and what drew you to do this work.
I'm on the board of directors for Twin Cities Maker.
I make wooden bows for archery, and teach classes so that others can learn to do the same, at our space, The Hack Factory.
I also make siege engines, mainly trebuchets, that work a lot like catapults, but are gravity powered. I'm currently making a prototype of a ballista, which is similar to a large crossbow.
Three years ago, I had some vacation time from my day job (making and serving coffee), and I decided I wanted to try something new. I had always been intrigued by the idea of getting into archery, and decided to take the plunge. I started shopping for equipment, and discovered that it cost more than I was prepared to spend. So, in true "maker fashion," I started looking for plans on how to make my own gear.
I found some, and proceeded to make my first bow. It broke 2 days later. I made a second, thinking I had learned from my mistakes, but it broke as well. I took everything I had learned from my first two attempts, and made a third bow. It came out great, and didn't break. At that point I was hooked.
I then moved to an apartment where I could no longer do woodworking, and started looking for a place where I could generate some sawdust. I found Twin Cities Maker, and The Hack Factory, and signed up as a member.
A few months after I joined, I was elected to our board of directors.
I'm always on the lookout for events that we as an organization, and myself as an individual, can participate in to promote our organization and meet like-minded individuals.
By doing this, I've gotten to bring my bows and siege engines to local science fiction and fantasy conventions, Mini Maker Faire Evanston - Chicago, Maker Faire Kansas City, and Maker Faire Detroit.
What is a maker / hacker space?
A Maker / Hacker space is a member supported, community-based workshop space where people can learn, teach, and use the equipment to make things, modify things, or experiment with techniques and technology.
Makers are primarily interested in making things from scratch; Hackers (in this context) are mostly into exploring, modifying, or re-purposing something that already exists. As there is an almost 100% overlap between the two realms of endeavor, I’m going to use "maker" and "making" to refer to both.
A maker space can be anything from a small group of people getting together on a regular basis to work on electronics projects, to a huge warehouse space filled with every kind of equipment, serving hundreds of members.
What is the mission of Twin Cities Maker, and how does the organization's physical space, the Hack Factory, help fulfill that mission?
Twin Cities Maker's mission statement is "Make, Share, Learn." Our goal is to provide a place where people can learn how to make things, take classes, teach classes, work on projects, and connect with like-minded individuals.
Our physical space, The Hack Factory, is over 8,000 square feet of workshop and office space, filled with all kinds of tools and infrastructure to make that possible.
We have a metal shop with all kinds of welding gear, metal cutting lathes, a bridgeport mill, and many other tools.
We have a woodshop with all the normal woodworking tools, including lathes, drill presses, routers, planers, table saws, band saws and hand tools.
We have a variety of CNC machines, computer controlled cutting tools that can take a 3-D computer model and turn it into finished parts, made out of wood, plastic, aluminum, steel, and a variety of other materials.
We have a classroom / electronics lab with work benches for soldering, a digital projector, a pair of 3D printers for fabricating objects out of molten plastic, and space for teaching classes.
We also have office type space, with rooms for meeting, lounging, or getting some quiet IT work done.
We teach classes on how to use all this equipment, for a variety of skill levels and interests. We're always trying to find more people who are passionate about what they do, and are willing to share their knowledge with others.
How, if at all, have you grown or changed through both your commitment to making and to your work with an organization like Twin Cities Maker?
When I first joined Twin Cities Maker, I had almost no experience using tools to make things. My bow-making was with unpowered hand tools, and the process was slow.
In the course of my siege engine project, building the "Foshaybuchet," I had to take the plunge and learn how to use these tools. For each stage of the project, other members would approach me with suggestions about how to accomplish a given task, which tools were right for the job, and how to use them safely.
This process gave me a skill set that directly improved my bow making abilities and encouraged me to learn and experiment with techniques and materials that I previously would have found daunting.
After a number of people approached me with interest, I decided to start teaching classes on introductory bow making.
I was amazed to discover that I enjoyed teaching, and that I had something to offer. Watching someone else making a bow under my instruction has been an incredibly gratifying and rewarding experience.
Serving on the board of Twin Cities Maker has likewise been a challenging and rewarding experience, and has forced me to grow in ways I hadn't anticipated.
I really enjoy helping maintain and grow an organization that has done so much for me, and finding ways for us to do the same for other people.
What are you looking forward to most about participating in the NAMAC 2012 conference?
I'm most excited about having a chance to meet and talk to some of the people who are participating and attending. This conference is going to be huge, and there are a lot of people coming from organizations that I've wanted to learn more about.
I'm very much looking forward to the events taking place at the Walker and the Soap Factory, both look like they're going to be a blast.
I'm also excited about the chance to spread the word about Twin Cities Maker and The Hack Factory, and I'm looking forward to showing off some of the geeky things I make.
In a sense, hacking / making seems like an individualistic or small-group activity. What do you think media arts or visual arts organizations have to gain from taking part in the movement or in related spaces?
Many of our members come from a media arts or visual arts background, and a lot of their projects are directly related to both. We have a lot of members who are into photography, video, graphic design, drawing, painting, and just about any other visual art form you can imagine.
One of the biggest benefits of coming to a collaborative space is the chance to share your ideas with others, get insights and feedback from them, and learn about approaches or methods that you otherwise might not have heard about.
There's a creative energy that comes from being in a place where everyone is excited about making, doing, and coming up with something new, that translates into any field of endeavor.
Do you have any other thoughts you'd like to share?
I think one of the biggest impacts that the maker movement, and maker spaces, have, is letting people know that they have permission to experiment, to learn, to try something new.
Makers and Hackers are not constrained by consumer culture. A Maker / Hacker knows that if it doesn't exist, you can make it. If it doesn't work right, you can change it.
All it takes is an idea, energy, and time, and you can bring something into the world that didn't exist before.