OlyMEGA – Olympia Makers, Engineers, Geeks, and Artists, is a technology interest group open to all ages and all knowledge levels. The mission of OlyMEGA is to create an open maker community in the Olympia/Thurston County region of Washington State welcoming to all. Members are encouraged to share their knowledge, learn from others, and create from what they learn.”
OlyMEGA traces its roots to 2009 when an online newsgroup called HaK-oly-HaK formed and started to meet at a local library to share knowledge and increase collaboration. After meeting in library community rooms, and member’s garages we recognized the power and innovation that came from having everyone in the same room working on a project they cared about. We started to look for a space that we could rent to provide a consistent meeting and working space.
We found a location in the Capitol Theatre building on the second floor as a sub-lease in a shared office space. Within a week of being in the space we had transformed it from the two room office into our first makerspace. This space allowed us to reach out to the community and begin to offer classes in multiple aspects of making. We launched our first long-term project class to teach introduction to programming, robotics, and radio. We had 12 students sign up for a 3 month long course and created 36 hours of instruction that took these students from little making skill, to advanced robot makers. We released the code on github and worked with local teachers to encourage using similar curriculum. While in this space we quickly realized that the maker community in the Olympia area needed a larger community workshop. We cleaned out a third room to create a home for a 3D printer that was being loaned to OlyMEGA from a local university. This new tool only increased the energy of the maker community and soon we were looking for a larger space.
We located a large workshop that offered the square footage we wanted with some issues that we were hoping that we could overcome. We were excited and started our new space with great enthusiasm. We held some classes and drew a larger group of people to the space and were heading in a good direction. Then winter came and the space began to become uncomfortable. The space was lacking environmental comforts that made it cold, damp and unhealthy. While working hard to resolve these issues we installed insulation and changed group meeting times to lessen the impact of the cold. We determined that being comfortable while making was just as important as being around other makers. While working through these issues with our makerspace we partnered with another community non-profit to provide support for their annual fundraising gala. We provided illumination and technical special effects for their performances. This interaction would pay dividends later in our journey to our own makerspace. While we continued to have a space and members were excited to make, fewer and fewer members were coming to our weekly meetings. We decided that we once again needed to begin the hunt for a space that met both the space and environmental requirements that we had determined to be our minimum viable options.
When we heard that the group we had helped out with illumination was looking for a tenant for half of their community studio we were excited and jumped at the chance to bring our group into an established community of artists and makers.
This new space was both large and comfortable. We had enormous artwork on every surface including the floor. The space was warm and inviting and was very conducive to creativity. In this space we once again flourished. We offered classes from how to build a coffee-can forge to paper-marbling and hard-cider making. We grew our membership and began working with more community groups. We were able to offer access to all members of our community and began to host all-ages classes and events. We did news stories for our local newspaper, PBS and NPR stations. While in this space we were approached by a group working with the Thurston County Economic Development Council and worked on a project to provide public access to public health information. This project offered us a chance to engage the First Lady of Washington State, Trudi Inslee, and describe our group to her and several policy advisors. We were very honored to have this opportunity and continue to reach out to others in the community to help offer collaborative opportunities. We also were able to develop a working partnership with YWCA of Olympia through one of our members and assist in the creation of a class to teach young women how to program. This class was taught by women in the computing profession in our local community. OlyMEGA worked to help find these women and we were able to source the components to build a raspberry pi based laptop. The young women built the laptop on the first day of the camp and then learned how to program on this laptop during the camp. The YWCA ran this camp with two groups of young women.
OlyMEGA began working with the Hands on Childrens Museum while we were in this space. This relationship allowed us to expand our reach to the children makers of the community and to enhance the maker movement in the Olympia region. We have provided member projects and demonstrations for many events at the museum and are excited to have met our Kickstarter organizer, Adrienne Testa, through this work.
While our time in the Procession of the Species Studio was great, we moved out during their ramp up to the annual Procession of the Species Parade. While we were without a space of our own we spent the time meeting at a community center to keep our momentum. We once again went on the hunt for a space to call ours. We looked at many open spaces and were careful to not get caught into a space that we would not be able to use long term. We began talking with a local property owner and he showed us a space that he had that was last used as his cabinet shop in the 1990s. This space, while rough and full of twenty plus years of accumulated stuff, offered something that we had been looking for since we started this endeavour. This space and property owner offered us an opportunity to make something ours. We have secured a lease on this space and have very agreeable terms for transforming it into our own space to suit our needs.
We took possession of this new space while it was still full of stuff including a 12,000 pound portable bank vault and other various items in September of 2014. The walls were bare studs on the second and third floors, when we emptied the piles of cabinets out of the second floor we discovered hardwood under the vinyl tiles and mastic. Yes we had to patch some holes in the floor, but we patched those holes. We have transformed the second floor into our meeting space and put up wallboard. The transformation has drawn acclaim from most who have seen the process. We hope to continue this transformation to the third floor of the space to offer more space to make. Our first floor workshop is starting to take shape and we have been offered the assistance of a local cabinet maker to construct workbenches and storage cabinets for the space.
We have started to offer classes again and we are getting good response from the local maker community. Our membership is growing and asking for more tools, more classes, and more events.
Help us to make these things possible and to help keep Olympia making great things.