Makerspaces provide a home for Boulder County creatives

Nov. 6—Longmont Public Media, a digital media makerspace in downtown Longmont, has one central goal: to make media education and creation more accessible.

"We really encourage and champion Longmont residents to create content," said executive director and co-founder Sergio Angeles. "What you create is limited by your own imagination."

"Makerspace" is a term for learning environments focused on creativity and collaboration. With an emphasis on problem-solving and experimentation, most makerspaces are oriented to hands-on learning through traditional art projects, such as woodworking or sewing.

Makerspaces are all over Boulder County, but Longmont Public Media emphasizes its focus on new media and digital production. LPM is filled with high-grade technology and equipment, including cameras, microphones, lighting, teleprompters and more. Anyone looking to use or rent the equipment can do so as long as it's available.

"We try to keep costs very reasonable," Angeles said. "We want to be available to all."

Regular classes are held covering topics from video editing to podcasting to drone piloting. LPM has three full-time and one part-time staff members and also trusts users of the space to help and teach their fellow creators.

Before Longmont Public Media existed in its current capacity, it was the Longmont Observer — a nonprofit online newspaper. Angeles helped launch the Observer in 2017.

"Once we were awarded the contract to provide public access TV services and basically create a media makerspace, we changed the name over to Longmont Public Media," Angeles said.

The newly rebranded Longmont Public Media opened its doors in January 2020, only to be quickly hindered by COVID-19. LPM still found ways to be relevant throughout the pandemic, from offering Zoom tutorials to recording performances by the Longmont Symphony Orchestra.

"We shifted toward a remote model, which was just livestreaming everything as much as we could," Angeles said.

A nonprofit relying on in-person engagement couldn't get much traffic during a pandemic, so Angeles considers 2022 to be LPM's first official year, which he says has been going well.

"Once summer hit and everything more or less started to open up, we were seeing a lot of members coming back," he said. "There were a lot of people wanting to learn about the space and showing up to create media."

Drawing interest

Angeles said LPM has drawn a wide variety of people this year, and not just from Longmont.

"We're seeing people from Boulder, Loveland, Fort Collins and Denver come here because there's nothing else like it, and they realize the potential of it," he said.

LPM operates through a membership model with multiple tiers, Angeles explained. He said people seemed more willing to financially support LPM in 2021 than 2020 based on the bump in membership the organization received last year.

While membership is encouraged, anyone can come into the makerspace for free from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the week. At $25 per year, members can reserve space in the building, though only Monday through Friday. For $25 per month, members gain unrestricted access to LPM, and more expensive tiers offer discounts on equipment rentals.

This summer, LPM ran its first internship program for high schoolers in the St. Vrain Valley School District. The students were tasked with creating tutorial videos and gaining valuable hands-on experience in media creation.

"It's invaluable," Angeles said. "You don't see a lot of studio space in Longmont for this type of stuff. Art, filmmaking, photography — anyone who's interested in that, you have to start somewhere."

AJ Foxx, an LPM member who attended LPM's "Boulder County Tonight Live" election event on Thursday, said she was astounded by the creativity and humor on display.

"It makes politics palatable," Foxx said. "It makes you want to care."

The special was part of LPM's "Thursday Night Live" weekly event series aimed at introducing community members to the nonprofit. Since becoming a member in August, Foxx regularly attends and volunteers for the Thursday night events. She said they consistently draw a big turnout that fills up the studio space.

"Every time I'm there, I meet other creatives, and I get to see what they love to do," Foxx said. "It allows people to show up in the community in the capacity they feel is authentic to them."

Making the most of BLDG 61

Inside the Boulder Public Library sits a small workshop called BLDG 61. The space is tucked away, but within it lies a plethora of art supplies and machinery: sewing machines, laser cutters, a 3D printer, laptops with Adobe apps, tape measures and more. In a side room sits the woodshop, brimming with woodworking tools and the smell of sawdust.

For Creative Technologist Adam Watts, working at BLDG 61 is "living the dream."

"It's amazing, honestly," he said. "I get to share what I'm passionate about with people every day."

Watts has been with BLDG 61 since it launched in February 2016; in fact, he was part of the grant-writing team to get the funding from the Boulder Library Foundation to open the space.

BLDG 61 is named after the portion of the library built in 1961 on the north side of Boulder Creek. The name is also an acronym that encapsulates the goals of the makerspace: Build, Learn, Design, Grow.

Makerspaces in libraries are not uncommon, and Boulder County is no stranger to them. Lafayette and Louisville have makerspaces in their libraries.

"Every makerspace ends up having its own flavor and style," Watts said. "The one consistent element is they end up being community spaces that offer some set of tools, but depending on infrastructure or staffing those tools are going to be drastically different.

"The library is essentially a space that is free to all for people to access equally. Makerspaces in the library try to extend that access to a toolset and materials. When you're in a library, you're hopefully getting some kind of inspiration or moment of discovery that surprises you. We make sure there's no barrier to entry. If somebody has an interest in it, we want them to explore it."

Watts said he wants people to feel welcome the moment they enter BLDG 61, regardless of their skillset or experience.

"We work really hard to make sure that everything is maintained and in good condition so that people can have the best possible experience with it," he said. "That's the exciting thing; we really just want to meet people where they are."

Access to the space and equipment is free, but some materials require payment cost, such as wood or 3D printing filaments. Visitors who bring their own materials don't need to worry about fees, however, and Watts said costs are extremely affordable compared to what other outlets might ask for.

Robby Holb runs the woodshop, which Watts said is the most popular feature of BLDG 61. Watts called the projects he's seen created in the shop a source of nonstop inspiration, from tabletops to cutting boards to — in once instance — a canoe. Every year, BLDG 61 holds a gallery show called "Maker Made" for local creators to display their works.

Cathy Gaffney, who started volunteering at BLDG 61 in 2019, loves the camaraderie the space inspires. She hopes more people discover it and embrace its creative potential, which she says is evident in the artists and staff.

"They want you to grow," Gaffney said. "They don't want you to be hindered."

Looking ahead

Over time, the money LPM gets from its contract with the City of Longmont will go down as people unsubscribe from cable providers. This is one reason why Angeles finds it so important to "reinvent" public access in a way that works for a new generation with new media.

"As people unsubscribe from cable, which everyone is doing nowadays, the funding for public access is dying. So, we wanted to replace that with a membership model," he said.

Should the membership model work, Angeles sees LPM as a good example of the possibilities of digital media makerspaces.

"Media has become so ingrained in everything that we do, and we have to adjust to the changing media landscape," Angeles said. "Let's educate the public about media and show them how to leverage it."

Angeles said LPM frequently receives people from TinkerMill — the largest makerspace in Colorado — and the Firehouse Art Center who use LPM's resources to promote their creations. There's good synergy between LPM and other, more-traditional creative spaces in the area, he said.

Going forward, Angeles hopes to continue growing LPM's membership base and advertise to the community even more, especially to fellow nonprofits. He said by next year, it would be nice for the nonprofit to reach around 150 paying members and 400 total members.

Community support is also strong at BLDG 61. Watts said the support from the community has been overwhelming. From local businesses to retired NASA engineers to kids using a computer for the first time, BLDG 61 is a place where "serendipitous discovery happens," Watts said.

"People love this space," he added. "The biggest demand that we always get is 'be available more.'"

BLDG 61 is open to the public on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Office hours for the woodshop, during which Holb offers design consultations and answers questions, are on Thursdays. Before the pandemic, the space was open longer and had three full-time staff members. Funding has yet to return to a level where increased hours and staff is possible, however.

"With the community demand we have, we could have the space open seven days a week," Holb said.

Watts said he would love to incorporate more digital media elements into BLDG 61, but the limited space of the workshop poses the biggest hurdle.

"For film and video stuff, we need a slightly bigger footprint for that to happen, but we know there's demand for it," he said. "If we can offer more media for people to explore, it's going to result in more solutions available to them."