Studio 81 is a small workshop occupying a space accessible by an alleyway on Vineyard Avenue in downtown Highland. Recently, a group of programmers, artists and electronic wizards — calling themselves Squidwrench — have started to meet there.
They’re what’s called a hackerspace, or makerspace — a creative collective of young professionals who meet to collaborate on projects. It’s a place where an artist working on a project that might benefit from moving parts and blinking LED lights can reach across the aisle for help from an electronics whiz.
“We’re trying to make this as comfortable a place to just sit and do work as possible,” explained Sean Swehla, who helped found the group back in 2010. “We do Android development days and things like that.”
They hold workshops on the graphics editing program Inkscape. They’ve done demonstrations on 3D printing. They’ve helped each other learn to sandblast etched designs onto glass cups, make electronics or make homemade toys and devices. As a team, they were busy last week building a squid-themed bed for the Town of Lloyd’s SpringFest.
Squidwrench started with a dream Swehla brought back from California.
“I actually took a trip. I was in San Francisco for work, and I went to a place called Noisebridge. It’s a hackerspace, and it’s one of the ones that helped get the movement going — in the U.S. anyway. And I just crashed one of their monthly meetings, or weekly meetings, when I was out there. I met the founder Mitch Altman and just generally hung out with them,” Swehla said.
They had woodworking, metalworking, electronics, crafts, sewing and a slew of interdisciplinary projects going at once. Members were learning from each other. He met people from NASA and Google who had sought out Noisebridge for a place to work on side projects. They were friendly and encouraging.
“When I came back, I knew I needed a place like that here. We started out meeting at the Palace Diner and then Panera Bread — just wherever we could find space,” he explained. Since 2010, Squidwrench has met a lot in Dutchess County. But the dream was always to find some kind of permanent home.
Teresa Maranzano, 27, came to Squidwrench with art in mind. From Poughkeepsie, she graduated from Marywood University in Pennsylvania with an arts degree and now works as a barista in New Paltz. She admitted she had some hesitation about learning electronics and programming. At Squidwrench, they helped her with a toy she was building, adding lights and making it move. She fell down the rabbit hole and learned to program computers along the way.
“Now I can actually code things. It led to me doing Codeacademy. And a lot of people that we’ve had in other art organizations, in like Kingston and Poughkeepsie … we’ve been able to draw like minds in,” Maranzano said.
One benefit of meeting at Studio 81 has been the workspace and tools itself. It had a die-pressing machine, a vacuum former and soldering tools for building circuit boards.
“It’s come and share what you’ve got — ask the questions that you’ve got. Everybody brings something,” he said.
Squidwrench currently has between 20 and 35 active members, but on any given weekly Tuesday meeting night there might only be a dozen who show up to work on something. Membership in Squidwrench costs $25 a month, but Swehla encouraged people to show up to a meeting to see if they like what’s being offered before making a commitment.
“I want anybody who might be interested to have the idea that it’s here and come on out and join us. If it’s a fit, then it’s a fit,” he said.
It’s not only for experts who want to share their technical knowledge of electronics or their artistic techniques. They also hold tutorials. Their “Intro to Electronics” lecture is aptly named “Why Isn’t This Blinking!?”
In the near future, there will be workshops on beer brewing, robot building, radio and hobby electronics, plus e-textiles and sewing for beginners.