It’s like inventing a new paradigm: You get an idea about a collective, cooperative, tangible space where people can dive deep into their imaginations for more ideas as yet unmanifested, and use the facility and their associations with others to bring these ideas forward. You present the concept to like-minded individuals, asking each one of them what their own needs and desires might be. You generate enough committed interest to go real estate shopping, and you’re on your way.
Hudson-Creative is a non-profit community-based startup organization that proposes to provide workspaces, equipment and a collaborative atmosphere for the creation of fine art, functional art and crafts. This includes a range of possible projects, from making single custom items to creating small series manufacturing. With a mission to make crafting a part of life for people of all ages, from the complete beginner to the expert, Hudson-Creative will have in-house tools for electronics, woodworking, metalworking, welding, sewing, robotics and many forms of design, repair and restoration. Exactly how the physical plant will be set up and equipped depends on who joins the membership and what everyone’s general requirements are. An online survey is being conducted to assess the feasibility of such a creativity space and to determine how many people will participate, what opportunities they are looking for and how often they would use Hudson-Creative.
The brainchild of Chad Weckler, who is himself an artist, photographer and event producer, the startup is being modeled on the concept of the “makerspaces” or “hackerspaces” popping up around the country, wherein communities share resources – manufacturing equipment, for example – for the purposes of enabling members to design, prototype and create works that wouldn’t be possible to create with the resources available to individuals alone. Affordability is one issue. A solitary worker might not be able to purchase a special tool on her own, but can use the equipment available in the makerspace to get her job done. The concept also promotes learning new skills and improving existing ones.
Weckler was joined by Mark Orton, who served as president of the Board of Trustees of the Hudson Area Library. “Basically, it’s been the two of us building this platform,” says Weckler. “Through the survey, we have 30 people participating in the startup now. Don’t have a penny or a square foot as yet. But we’ve been talking to members of the City and various economic development groups; and the first step for our business plan is to do the survey. Having an idea is great. It’s terrible if you don’t have any customers.
“The Hudson Valley is very strong with creative entrepreneurs, and some of the recent surveys coming out of state and county levels show that Columbia County is one of the top three counties in the country, with the highest concentration of artists. There’s Brooklyn and Taos, New Mexico, and there’s Columbia County! When they mention the ‘creative economy,’ it’s everything from interior designers, landscape designers, graphic artist, woodworkers…it’s a very long list. Not just artists, but people in the service industry like painters, photographers, sign designers. All are ‘makers.’”
He cites Etsy as an example of a maker-promoting company. “The headquarters are in Brooklyn, but the customer service hub is in Hudson, where they employ over a hundred people. They have a phenomenal number of members just here in the Hudson Valley, and they’re trying to move their makers of single items to doing small manufacturing, which means more jobs and more money in flow. They are actually working with people across the country to develop this ‘small-batch manufacturing’ concept.”
When asked what his personal vision of the organization’s structure might be, Weckler says, “I see it as an open source. Our website is a bit rough, but we explain what open-sourcing is there. We want everybody to be able to communicate and see what everyone else is doing. Often what happens in makerspaces is that projects get created by people meeting each other and saying, ‘I have this idea, and you’re good at doing that, and that person is good at doing that, and if the three of us get together, we can make this something different.’ If you have a woodshop, for example, ten or 15 people can be there making different things, but they may eventually begin to work together. We’re looking at 50/50 in terms of making things as a hobby or for resale. A lot of people would like to learn woodworking or how to weld or how to use a sewing machine. There’s the learning aspect and the teaching aspect. A lot of people want to do both. I hope we get every wish answered. I want the whole thing: a commercial kitchen, 3-D printing and scanning. I’d like to work with local schools and businesses being able to use the talent and equipment we have here.”
Basic funding will be needed to get Hudson-Creative off the ground, but Weckler says that sustainability depends on the members. “A lot of people don’t know if they’d use it by the hour, day, week or month. When we start our team-member meetings, I would like to hear what they want to do. It’s an idea that will only be functional if the team members do the conceptualizing and figuring out how it will work. They’ll all put their fingerprints on the idea. We want to be a 501 (c) (3), and you need a board and president and so on. I think that will happen very soon, once we get further along with our business plan and keep the survey open, which we’re opening to Connecticut and Massachusetts, and Ulster and Albany Counties. There are smaller makerspaces in Poughkeepsie and Troy now, but some are more technology-oriented. A lot of people don’t know what a maker- or hackerspace is. It’s a fairly new concept, but they’re all over the world.”
Like co-housing communities and artisan collectives everywhere – Albany Barn is one that Weckler cites – the basic concept is relatively new, but it’s probably also very old. It was perhaps the primary way that things got done before the Industrial Revolution, through guilds and communities like the Shakers. “I’ve always felt that farmers are people who, 100 years ago, had to learn to do everything themselves: build a barn, fix the tractor, get water, feed a family, feed and milk the cows. They were constantly making and sharing things.”
Weckler says that the core team of members will open a public meeting in October and push the survey further south or east to talk more about what Hudson-Creative can be. Stay tuned. And check out Hudson-Creative at http://hudson-creative.org, or visit www.facebook.com/hudsoncreativene.