May 17, 2023 Community Stories
New Make-It Springfield home opens up possibilities for new dreams & community connections
When Sheldon Smith was a student at Springfield Technical Community College, he had two big wishes. The first was to experiment with an advanced drone. The second was to use a 3D printer.
In his head, there was no way this would happen any time soon because no one he knew had access to these tools of what was then cutting-edge technology.
Then one Saturday, on the recommendation of one of his teachers, he took his daughter to check out a new maker space called Make-It Springfield.
They enjoyed themselves so much and he was moved by the fact that everyone working there was a volunteer, serving the community with their creative gifts. That encounter changed his life.
That was in 2015. Fast forward 8 years…
Imagine a space where, in one section, a group of people is bent over broken bicycles, wrenching and greasing life back into them. Some of these bicycles will be given away to anyone who comes in and expresses a need for one.
Not far away, a group of quilters are putting together colorful new creations. As they do, they share stories about life in Springfield and laughter punctuates their conversations.
In the same space, a beginner’s drawing class is scheduled for later in the week. So is a woodworking class for making bird feeders. You will also see glasswork, leatherwork, and poetry readings in progress, depending on when you visit.
A group of teenage girls has a soap and candle-making project in the works. They have found entrepreneurial success selling their products at pop-up markets in the area.
Twice a month, a group of men aged 55+ enter the space to discuss their creative projects over a cup of coffee.
And yes, anyone can walk in off the street and use the 3D printer, borrow a drone, sit at a sewing machine, start a creative group, host a workshop, or, finally, make that piece of jewelry they have been dreaming about.
Make-It Springfield is the community studio that makes all these things possible.
“Our role is to help encourage, develop, provide a place, tools, inspiration, and support in every way we possibly can,” says Executive Director, Roberta Wilmore.
Founded by Laura Masulis and Michael Dipasquale, Make-It Springfield started as a one-month pop-up maker space in a vacant storefront in downtown Springfield.
The initiative was so successful that the two founders and their team of volunteers kept it going for longer. In June 2016, after securing more support and funding, they opened their first permanent location on Worthington Street.
Make-It Springfield soon outgrew its space.
Wilmore recalls how crammed it was; “It was funny because somebody would come in and we’d try to kind of give a little tour but it was one room. I used to laugh every time we did it. We just had a lot of stuff crammed into a little storefront and people still came in and they loved it. They did all kinds of things. But you know, it’s not the same as an extremely well-organized, wide-open, attractive space that makes you walk in and think, ‘Yes, I want to sit down and create something.’
That new space that Willmore is referring to is the location at the Innovation Center on Bridge Street that Make-It Springfield now occupies. The organization moved into the close to 4,000 ft. space, spread over two floors, in January 2023, after years of planning and support from different partners.
And that brings us back to Smith, whose story reflects that of many who visit the space for the first time. After his first encounter with Make-It Springfield, he went back and offered to help. They set him up with a time slot and he started offering weekly art classes. Today, he is the Membership & Operations Coordinator for Make-It Springfield.
“People aren’t used to our model,” he explains. “At first it’s unbelievable. It’s like what’s the catch? The assumption is that they have to pay, or that it’s an exclusive members-only type of thing. and so we make sure to remind visitors that this space was made for the people.”
He says the new space, over three times the size of the original location, makes it possible for them to serve the community better.
“We had limitations in the old space. We could only have small groups, for instance, and could not do that many activities. Now we can have larger groups and we have more room to do activities such as dance or have instruments and now we don’t have to worry about neighbors where we have to keep a low profile.”
Wilmore talks about how the new space opens up new possibilities; “We are going to have a potter’s wheel for people to do pottery and jewelry. We will bring some equipment in for music production. We have an area that can be used for robotics and hopefully, some electronic stuff that we hope to get going in there.”
She also adds that there is now space that people can rent for events and that, once renovations are complete, there will be space for people who want space for a few days to finish a project at very low rentals.
Finally, Smith reminds us that a space like Make-It Springfield is not really about the art or the amazing creations that come out of there.
It’s about people.
“A lot of people are dealing with the stresses of life and don’t have outlets or space for a social life. They stay either in the house or at work. This space creates a whole different outlook on what living can be like. People come here and new friendships, new possibilities are born.”