Access and the LA Makerspace

This is one of series of guest-posts by Beatriz Maldonado, who is working on a 3D printing + literature research project this summer.

LA Makerspace Imageis a non-profit community space located in the Los Angeles Mart Building. According to their website, their mission “is to provide a place where youth can make and learn alongside adults and where members can work on their own projects while learning new, unique maker skills through our workshops, on-going interest-based programs, mentorship, and peer learning environment.” I became very excited the day my professor told me about LA Makerspace and the workshops that it hosts about 3D printing, computer programming, and other amazing technological opportunities. It all sounded so inspiring and revolutionary that I immediately looked up their website for more details.

As I was searching through the LA Makerspace’s website, I found the Calendar of Events, and my stomach instantly dropped when I saw the cost of a day pass workshop: $20. I thought, “well this is OK, because I would be learning about some high tech stuff…” But it didn’t take long for that first feeling of disappointment to return; I thought “but with fifteen dollars I could buy lunch for my family, or buy groceries, or fill up my mom’s car for once.” What’s more, the fact that my family has not gone to the Getty Museum because of their intimidating $15 dollar parking pass requirement meant that I couldn’t, in good conscience, attend any of the LA Makerspace workshops. There is just something about double digits that petrify my family and myself. However, I managed to find a free event on the same day my professor first mentioned the organization.

Planning to attend an LA Makerspace Workshop
Before I left Scripps to head to the workshop, I planned the public transportation routes I would take. The workshop was held on a Wednesday – the day when my mom takes my brother to his soccer practice, after picking him up from school and making dinner for the family first, of course. I did not want to complain about the time the event (from 6-8pm), because I was already grateful that the event was free. However, I knew that this time (in which all these other events were happening) would complicate things for my mom at the moment of picking me up. Worse still, before leaving I noticed that my phone was dying, which was problematic because my phone is the only way to contact my mom. When my mom goes out of the house and I am out of the house, and my phone is not working … well let’s just say chaos is the most likely outcome. With my phone not working and her busy schedule already set, I was a bit anxious about how I was going to reach her when the event was over.

Feeling out of Place
When I finally reached the location, I was more than surprised to find it in the LA Mart. Not that I had ever been inside the Mart, but it was interesting to find this building located a block away from the local community college, Los Angeles Trade Tech, and right across from the Blue Line subway. This is, in some ways, my neighborhood. Really, the location seemed relatively accessible. I was very happy for that fact…until I entered the main lobby.

Everything looked creative when I got there…I loved the space of handmade toys and devices, the various books on the table that linked to what Prof. Jacque and I had been working on (such as 3D Printing). I looked around for a couple of minutes…and then I felt distinctly out of place. I did not really have a particular motive or goal to accomplish; I was there to experience the space and its resources. Friendly faces and smiles welcomed me, but none motivated me to strike up a conversation. When I headed to the back of the office, I saw a mother and her son talking to one of the members of the makerspace. I tried to tune into their conversation for a bit, but I really could not follow what they were saying. I wanted to chime in and ask a question.

Suddenly, I began to feel a wave of many emotions. I felt as though I did not belong there. I felt alone and small. I felt jealous because I saw a mother and her child there interacting with one of the workers. Whenever people ask my parents what I am doing over the summer, their response remains as “my daughter is working at her university” because they do not fully understand what research means. As a result, I’m not accustomed to discussing my work – even though I am proud of the research my professor and I are working on. That mother and son were sharing their exploration of technology – my parents and I don’t have the same kinds of moments over my research.

I gathered my courage and started talking with someone about the 3D printers they had there. After a while, she let me know that the free workshop I was there to attend was outside. I headed down to the parking lot for the workshop, and I have to admit that my sense of not belonging did not get better from there.

Everyone was white. That seems a bit direct and perhaps inappropriate – but that was the first thought that came to my mind. I did not see a person of color, other than, well, myself. I did appreciate how polite everyone was. They encouraged me to make my own creative crafts there and to use a material called VELCRO because the craft could stick to the LA Makerspace Mobile Van they had. ImageI was embarrassed because I did not know what Velcro even was. The only arts and crafts I had ever come across consisted of colored construction paper with squiggly scissors and glue. After cruising around the materials table twice, not even taking 10 minutes, I knew I wanted and needed to go home. Seeing that my phone was dead, I had to figure out my way back. It wasn’t hard, but my mom had been anxious not knowing where I was.

“It was fun,” I replied to my mom when she asked how it went. And I had not lied, I just felt…uncomfortable. I started thinking about how accessible LA Makerspace is on the one hand, but the access is invisible for those in the neighboring communities. The LA Mart is in one of the most diverse areas of Los Angeles. I remember going by the LA Mart building with my family, but never really knowing what was inside. I had never known about it until my professor mentioned it. Nor am I likely to be back inside anytime soon given the costs for workshops. It is in my neighborhood, but not part of it.

I know that many of my friends from the same neighborhood search for free events, like the one I attended. I understand that as a consumer/user/visitor, I have to be ready to make the journey to take advantage of free events – it’s great that LA Makerspace has some events that my friends and I can attend. At the same time, I am trying to figure out how the community and spaces like this can work together and to understand the importance of spaces like this one having free events available. I find myself asking: Why must we attend and learn about ‘making’? How could community members contribute to the space and its work?

My experience has taught me that accessibility is a complicated idea. There were limitations as much as there were chances to learn and interact with others. Free events must exist to create the space available for everyone no matter what. But this isn’t just about cost – it is necessary to recognize other factors in place such as date/time and transportation in order to make resources really accessible to a wide range of people. My time at the Makerspace gave me a new awareness of things I had never thought about before (such as making a craft and sticking it onto a moving vehicle). I may have left too early to discover how I could give back or involve myself more, yet I knew I would not have done the contribution humbly. I didn’t feel at home. The exposure to this type of environment seemed so invaluable, but I feel that some of that value wasn’t accessible to me.

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