Makers Down Under: How ADX is Inspiring Australian Makerspaces

August 11, 2016

By Courtney Tait

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For two weeks in May, Matt Preston — Communications Director of Portland art and design facility ADX — explored Australia’s Maker Movement, visiting Melbourne and the Blue Mountains to share insights on makerspace creativity and collaboration.

Here, he reflects on the current landscape of the movement Down Under, how Aussie and American makers are different (and similar), and the role of ADX as a global makerspace model.

On the purpose of his trip: In Australia right now there is a big push toward creative industries, and the city councils there are incredibly active in the private sector. Last year a group of Australians involved with economic development visited Portland and took a class at ADX to experience the makerspace culture. They did a private tour, had a day of building and made their own product. Jump forward six months, and they wanted to have someone from ADX come to Australia to talk to makers and city council members about how to create and collaborate within makerspaces and creative industries.

On Melbourne: It’s like a giant Portland. It’s very much the hip, creative left-leaning city like Portland is. The city is a conglomerate of 15 or 16 different city councils. I was stationed in the downtown district, and each day I went to a different city council that was part of Melbourne.

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On sharing creative business insights: I gave three different kinds of talks. One was on the ADX model and how to encourage creative collaboration and work with small businesses and makers. One was economic focused, about the numbers behind creative businesses, which used data from the Portland Made/PSU 2014 survey and from ADX on how many small businesses have come out of our makerspace. The third talk was aimed toward maker business owners and artists, on topics such as growing businesses and working with other brands.

On inspiring Australians: Everyone was really excited to hear these ideas. Little things about collaboration and  connecting businesses together were very insightful for them, and people were getting inspired. They are looking for unique ideas and are very open to getting help with navigating this realm. There is a desire to bring in that American industrious attitude. People would say, “You Americans just do it.”

On whether Australians use the term “Maker Movement”: I was surprised to hear it as often as I did. It’s very similar to here in that the new breed of artists and makers are still hopping onto the maker term, as it did just kind of take off suddenly. They also use the term makerspace, but that means something different for everyone: There were makerspaces for robotics, that were cooperative furniture makers and welders that shared a building, there were studios with artists. Maker economy and maker culture is definitely something that’s becoming defined.

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On collaboration: In Portland, we have a collaborative nature, we work together and share ideas. In Australia, the movement was more disparate. In Melbourne there’s not as much connection; people seemed more wary of working with other brands or putting their ideas out into groups. But it also seems there is a growing desire to become more collaborative. In the Blue Mountains, I met a group of five women artists — fashion photographers, designers, etc.— who had rented a 1920s mansion and turned it into a living and working space. And there’s also MTNS Made [a maker network], which is similar to Portland Made.

On challenges faced by Australian makers: In Melbourne, affordability is becoming a huge issue. They have areas in the city that are almost identical to what happened in Portland’s Northeast. Places that were once the hub of Melbourne’s artistic scene are now filled with yuppies and restaurants that are not affordable. Creative people are getting pushed out of their spaces. Australian makers also have a hard time getting some of the higher end tools  because of shipping fees — it’s pretty cost prohibitive. All the machines I saw there were pre-1980s.

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On differences between Australia and the US: In America, the attitude is very much, ‘If I want to do it, I will do it.’ In Australia, the general populace is hesitant to do something new if they are unsure how it will work. The government is very involved with day-to-day operations of people, of permitting and health and safety policies. If you are a small business and need a cash infusion you go to the government, not a bank. But while the Australian government is more likely to invest in startups on a bigger scale than in the US, people are hesitant to accept help in case they are doing something wrong. I met a lot of makerspace owners who didn’t want to advertise their space, even though they need members, because they weren’t sure if it was up to code. They were under the impression that certain mistakes could result in them being shut down.

My biggest takeaway is that there seems to be a middle ground between the way the US government operates and the way they Australian government operates. There should be a happy medium.

On Australian Made products: Australian Made is something the government runs, and the campaign started really well, but it seems a lot of small makers are jaded by it because they couldn’t afford to get certified. So now there are unofficial “Aussie Made” claims. Everywhere I went there were signs that said Aussie Made, so there is that consumer education.

On ADX serving as a global model for makerspaces: A lot of people ask us for advice on starting a makerspace and if we would be willing to franchise. They are interested in our software and are contacting us for consulting. The owner of an Australian makerspace called Space Tank Studio started the space based on ADX, which was recommended to him by an ex-engineer from Apple as an example of the best style of makerspace he has seen. Space Tank is interested in doing an international maker exchange, in which an Australian maker would do a residency at an ADX, and we would send an American maker to Australia.

On creative common ground: At the core of it all, makers and artists everywhere I go tend to be the same — passionate, positive people. That environment is just inspiring, and Australia is no different. Makers are makers.

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