Mobilizing the Maker Movement

By Sharon McCormick

Pick up or log into a recent newspaper or magazine and you have probably encountered stories about the “maker movement”. While the term has become trendy of late, we at RMA have always recognized that past and present downtowns thrive with “makers.”

The structure of the maker movement is essentially an ancient one. In the central part of any town, craftsmen, seamstresses and others artisans established their businesses, and these areas became the hubs of the community. As the centuries passed and the modern consumerism culture prevailed, downtowns became filled with generic, cookie-cutter stores selling the same mass produced merchandise. Individuality seemed to be lost. However, there has always been a longing for and an appreciation of the individuality and authenticity that is associated with makers.

In 2016, Forbes cited statistics from a 2013 USA Today article: “Today in the U.S., approximately 135 million adults are makers – people who employ their creative skills in craft activities, such as making clothing, jewelry, baked goods or works of craft or art. That’s 57% of the American population age 18 and up. It’s a segment that is expanding rapidly in size and economic heft. Makers pump some $29 billion into the economy each year, and these figures will surely grow.”

Years before these articles became prevalent, I was already tapping into my own life experience as a “maker” of home accessories, art and jewelry in my redevelopment work. While giving a presentation to city leaders, I stressed the importance of redevelopment projects that embrace makers – people who can collectively create a distinct and authentic downtown within their communities.

Since that time, RMA has been leading the way in helping city officials create districts that welcome all breeds of creators — traditionalists, those who embrace advanced technology or some amalgam of both which spurs even more dramatic creativity.

Our work with Pompano Beach has set forth an interesting mix of makers who are attracted to the city’s emerging arts and innovation district. One of the most popular draws at the Old Town Untapped event is Dark Angel Armory & Forge. The event is a curated arts fair and biergarten that has taken the alleys and empty spaces around the Bailey Contemporary Arts (BaCA) building and activated them with a variety of artists, crafters and makers drawing thousands each month. Dark Angel founder Shaun Williams is a semi-professional artist blacksmith who demonstrates his craftsmanship at the show, sells his art and promotes his classes and team building programs. Combining the age-old tradition of forging iron with the value of making something together, Williams’ company has creatively developed team-building workshops where groups participate in iron-forging to enjoy the thrill of “making” and to develop bonds that can spur creativity they never could have imagined before.

While Williams’ art has essentially remained the same throughout the centuries, Jonathan Rockford is at the opposite end of the maker spectrum as it relates to artistic expression.

Wrangling with research concerning uncertainty, transience, memory and perception, Rockford, an artist in residence at Bailey Contemporary Arts (BaCA), grabs the tools at hand as a form of inquiry through making and project development. Utilizing sculptural methods, looping techniques (such as crochet, video, and computer coding), found objects, drawing, light projections and humor, he takes an egalitarian approach toward the media he engages – employing the elements that best support and enhance each projects conceptual concerns.  His unique way of blending art and science has earned him an impressive list of grants, fellowships and awards.

Pompano Beach is a terrific example of this blending of makers, which RMA established within the city’s CRA district to foster this dynamic and diverse growth, which will only continue to expand. We envisioned Pompano Beach as this type of city and redeveloped accordingly. In the years to come, we see this area’s maker culture becoming even more multi-faceted to include traditional visual and performing arts, culinary arts, digital arts, aviation technology and more yet to be imagined.

For one of our other city clients in central Florida, our research led to the conclusion that it too has the opportunity and authentic foundation to establish a flourishing maker culture, one perhaps more traditional in scope.

Downtown Alachua has a more rural feeling than the bustle of South Florida. Its charming downtown transports you back in time and it already offers several shops where people are “making”. In particular, the town’s quilting shop is one of the area’s main attractions, with quilters visiting from all over the country. With this as an anchor, we envision the city developing a “makerspace” in one of the large vacant buildings downtown. Here, a central hub can be established and equipped with 3D printers, advanced electronics, crafts and hardware supplies and all that a maker could want. The downtown area can be transformed into a shared place where people will gather to create, invent and learn.

While “makers” have always been with us, the current convergence of science, technology, art and craft sets a new stage for exciting opportunities to enliven downtowns. I’m proud be a maker – both in the traditional sense and as part of a team of visionaries reinventing cities.