a gathering place and workshop for makers, creators, tinkerers and dreamers
By Amanda May
About four months ago, New Haven got its own version of a Silicon Valley garage. The creativity incubator that is MakeHaven, at 266 State St., is the local incarnation of a worldwide movement of makers, tinkerers, and hackers. From Make Magazine and local online discussions to a meeting of community members organized by the city, this space was born of a desire to create. It is open to all who want to make … essentially anything. From complex electrical projects to roasting coffee, MakeHaven is a sort of playground for creative people who like to get their hands dirty.
Marcus O. Notz, MakeHaven’s president, offered some further explanation of just what was going on during an open house in August. At MakeHaven – through repurposing, reusing, and recycling – things are created out of discarded stuff. The old adage “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” definitely applies.
Strolling around the MakeHaven space, which is full of almost entirely donated goods, one might find an array of wires in a variety of colors and sizes, zip ties, boxing gloves, latex gloves, nuts, bolts, garden shears, keyboards, coffee cups, sand paper, monitors, stacks of laptops, saws, old radios, books, bikes, and storage bins. While seemingly incongruous, all these things come together in surprising ways, not unlike the MakeHaven membership.
The group’s 32 members range in age from 20 to 60-plus and include “mechanical engineers, electronic people, computer people, an anesthesiologist, and even gardeners,” according to Notz. No matter who shows up, “what always happens is that people work together,” he said.
With its diverse membership, MakeHaven is a great place to bounce ideas off of people from a variety of backgrounds and fields. It’s like having a set of consultants ready to help you with whatever crazy start-up idea you might have.
While hackerspaces.org is a global site dedicated to the DIY movement, Notz shies away from the word “hacker” (they make things, they don’t break things, and they definitely don’t have anything to do with computer viruses or identity theft). Of course all this making includes some disassembling, too, pulling things apart and out of old machines, computers, and anything that can possibly be dismantled and examined.
Notz agreed that “maker” people often just feel the impulse to take things apart to see how they work. For anyone with a little brother/spouse/friend who has left a trail of dismembered toy cars and electronics in his or her wake, you know the type of inquisitive people hanging out at MakeHaven.
Notz, who is a German-born Branford resident, is definitely one of these types.
From his grandfather down, all the Notzes were always taking things apart and experimenting — “especially electrical and mechanical things,” he added.
Outside of MakeHaven, he runs his own IT and design business.
In addition to merely examining things, as its name suggests, MakeHaven actually gets things made, as well. So far, its members have built a 3-D printer from scratch (which prints 3-D shapes out of layers of plastic, designed with a program like Auto-Cad or 3D Studio) and repaired a badly burned laser cutter and countless other machine prototypes, gadgets, and useful add-ons. They were even able to help someone who came in off the street (from an unnamed manufacturing company) who was having trouble with a glucose monitor he was trying to produce. He asked for ideas and in the end got a custom-made circuit and a new business partner.
According to Notz, for these first two to three years MakeHaven is renting at a rate tied to its membership count, thanks to Miles and Kam Lasater, forward-thinking community members who own the building. The initiative seems to be doing great so far, with lots of infrastructure and renovation plans for the near future and various projects already completed.
One of MakeHaven’s more successful ideas to date has been hosting a series of workshops for community members. One popular workshop was “Light Your Bike,” at which participants illuminated bicycles with small battery-powered rope lights (to help night visibility). Other workshops to watch for are soldering, glass-cutting, and etching, where they will make things like tumblers out of repurposed wine bottles. Check MakeHaven’s website (makehaven.org) for future workshops and feel free to suggest a theme!
As renovations and expansion move forward, MakeHaven plans to open a darkroom, machine shop, beer-brewing area, a full kitchen, and perhaps even a biofuel-making area, as green technologies are of interest to the group.
“Yeah, some people are really into green technologies,” confirmed Notz. An example of this, other than the biofuel, is “figuring out how to make things run with less power,” a noble and timely goal by any measure.
To learn more about MakeHaven, visit makehaven.org or stop by 266 State St. on Tuesday evenings (from 7 p.m. on). While the idea is to eventually have someone there all the time, the best times to catch members are Tuesday and Sunday evenings. Membership is $50/month and includes perks like a key (after a brief introductory period), providing 24-hour access to the innovation lab. Non-members are always welcome to stop by.
Those wishing to help support MakeHaven should note that all donations are welcome, but if you want to make members really happy, check out their wish list (on makehaven.org). Also, MakeHaven anticipates being granted non-profit status (501c3) soon, at which point donations will be tax deductible.
Amanda May is the Arts Council’s communications manager.