Maker Culture  /  Insights

The Scope of Open Works: Baltimore’s Newest Maker Space


Will Holman

Open Works


Elsa Haarstad

AIGA Baltimore


March 17, 2017


Baltimore, MD

In the early stages of Policy Designed, we knew that we had to get Will Holman involved. As the general manager of Open Works, he has been crucial in the development of this new makerspace on the edge of Station North – the creative arts district of Baltimore.

It seems like everyday there is some new class, program, or initiative at Open Works – whether it’s a partnership with a local university, a lecture on Women in Architecture, or community meetings on design. Just walking into the space there is an intoxicating energy of being around people eager to learn and make.

I met with Will at Open Work’s new coffee shop to talk about their engagement with the community, their sustainability, and their hopes for the future.

What is the long term vision for Open Works?

The long term vision is looking towards full stack economic development opportunities. We are looking for people to start, grow, and make successful businesses. Young people can find the tools to stay in school, get into college or training, and still have this to come back to after they’ve completed further education.

What work did you do with the community? What are their views of Open Works?

Makerspaces have historically been dominated by affluent white males, people that already know what they are doing [the technology, tools, resources], can end up dominating the space. So, our mission is to explicitly make Open Works accessible to all by making it inexpensive, offering scholarship options, work-trade programs, and various types of free community programming.

We spent a lot of time in neighboring communities at meetings in order to get support. Some of these were required, some also became a way to get to know the people and the community organizers. All of this happened before any construction. Before opening we had FORCE operating out of the space.

When we opened we knew that we wanted the staff to reflect the community that we are in. Our staff is majority women and POC, but we still need to take that further, because our managerial staff is majority white. That’s on me as a leader to build and engage with larger and more inclusive networks.

How do you financially sustain an operation like this?

Capitalizing the building was time-consuming (2-½ years) but in many ways easier than anticipated. It took a lot of relationship building. Programmatic dollars are more of an issue, they can be static and more difficult to find when you are starting from scratch and trying to get your foot in the door with foundations and government agencies.

Any startup space has good days and bad days. It has felt good to face challenges head on, and see good responses. There are still a lot of things to do for the space to really come together.

Young people can find the tools to stay in school, get into college or training, and still have this to come back to.

What has the community involvement been since opening? What are your plans with them for the future?

We made a conscious effort to work with Red Emma’s coffee roastery, Thread, for our internal coffeeshop, Greenmount Coffee Lab, because they are a worker-owned co-op whose mission aligns with our values. We have Americorps positions, we have a MICA graduate student developing a teen program, we have had free classes for seniors in the neighborhood, we are donating labor and building the furniture for local community center in the basement of a Montessori school. Then we have Kisha Webster, President of the New Greenmount West Community Association, who has been instrumental in engaging with young people and neighborhood issues.

An issue we are facing is how can you engage in a healthy way, and provide this safe space to build out programming.

In June we are starting a farmers market, engaging with women in the neighborhood and bringing more food happenings to the area. Currently there is a chicken box and a liquor store, along with two corner stores, with no grocery stores in the area. We are working on all of this, and trying to make it sustainable- it is a challenge.

Are there things you would have done differently?

The first thing that comes to mind is software management. Changing the software now is really difficult, we are rolling into a new program in late April, and in hindsight it would have been far easier to have the system in place before.

There just isn’t a perfect software for this type of space, so instead you have to cobble things together, and modify existing systems. At first we were using a custom-made program, but it was really buggy. Now we are using one that was designed for yoga studios – great for membership and classes, but not as efficient with other elements like check outs and rentals.

Another thing, one that wasn’t anticipated, was how much programming would take place here. Makerspaces are a social hub, or at least they aspire to be, and we didn’t anticipate how busy and frequently we would be using the space for different types events.

The most exciting thing about Baltimore is how densely populated it is with makers.

How do you differ from other makerspaces?

Most makerspaces grow incrementally, they start small and add as they go. We are starting big and filling in, which comes with its own set of challenges. In both scenarios the group and size is never quite right for who is there. We had to invest a lot more money in the beginning, and are now trying to fill the space with people.

We also are a more professionalized space — full-time staff, new facility, new tools — which rubs up against the DIY aspects that are fundamental to maker culture. There are opinions on which way it should go (too corporate etc), but what is great is that there is room for a ton of models, and we are just one.

Why Baltimore?

The most exciting thing about Baltimore is how densely populated it is with makers. I co-founded the Industrial Arts Collective, which met for a while every month, which would talk about ways to collaborate. One of those things that grew out of that group was a pop-up shop, Made in Baltimore, which is now a new initiative to grow Baltimore craft manufacturing – products made here – taking from SFmade and Made in Brooklyn, it opens up new possibilities for job training, product promotion, certification, data collection, and public policy.

Our first six months of wood and metal classes were in partnership with the Station North Tool Library, they were deeply helpful in helping us get on our feet and build a pool of qualified instructors. We are also partners with the CCBC Fab Lab which teaches CNC and Laser Cutter safety classes. We are talking with The Foundery, MICA, Hopkins, and CCBC about cross training with these safety classes. This would make things more efficient, and help to make Baltimore a maker campus. It would be easier to flow between the places. This would also be a huge model for other cities.

Other maker/shared fabrication spaces in Baltimore include:

– Bmore Accelerator Kitchen (shared commercial kitchen space)
– Baltimore Clayworks (ceramics)
– Baltimore Fab Lab (digital fabrication)
– Baltimore Hackerspace (digital fabrication/general)
– Baltimore Jewelry Center (jewelry)
– Baltimore Node (digital fabrication/general)
– Baltimore Print Studios (silkscreen and letterpress printing)
– Baltimore Underground Science Space (bio hacking)
– Chesapeake Arts Center (opening soon) (digital fabrication/general)
– Digital Harbor Foundation (youth makerspace)
– The Foundery (digital fabrication/general)
– Lowside Garage (shared garage for working on motorcycles)
– Station North Tool Library (tool lending library/woodshop)
– Workshop of Our Own (women’s only woodshop)

Co-working/tech incubator spaces:

– Spark
– Impact Hub
– Co-Lab
– Touchpoint
– Betamore
– Charles Village Exchange

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