BERLIN — Assemble Makerspace in Berlin announced it is closing and restructuring.
What did Assemble bring to the North Country? Some people will tell you that the most significant contribution Assemble made is creative social capital.
It began as a group of creative professionals at the Local Works Farmers Market in 2009, then the former WREN Makerspace in 2014 with a small, but talented, group of makers. Assemble has always been about community over competition through its connections to one another.
Sharing resources in multiple ways, the small group transitioned to the partnership now known as Assemble Makerspace established in 2017. Assemble created classes, workshops, guest artist teaching opportunities, creative coworking, learning opportunities for small micro-entrepreneurs. It connected people, offered learning opportunities and hands on access to a variety of artisan craft tools.
Assemble operated as a shared studio co-operative. A “makerspace,” as it is commonly called, is a place that straddles the divide between a home studio and community meeting place. It allowed for flexible, professional workspace without the commitment to expensive overhead. It is a shared studio space model for an open exchange of ideas and leads to creative collaboration and community cooperation. Artists and crafters can share their skills and earn income as instructors; students can express themselves, gain knowledge, and build networks.
Assemble’s third year of business has not yet been profitable, but they are hopeful for a better future. In the throes of this global pandemic, which has made such sweeping changes to so many areas of life, Assemble has been unable to overcome the many obstacles to its existence. Grant monies and state funds were ultimately unavailable, as its non-traditional business model did not have employees. Without knowing when artists and makers can come together comfortably and safely, and with the inability to plan for other community and family unknowns, the partnership is unable to continue to fund Assemble.
Assemble could never have imagined the events of the past few months which turned all of our personal and professional lives upside down. The makerspace functioned because artists could sell, make, teach and share skills as it takes many income streams for the average artist to survive.
The Assemble partnership consists of Laura Jamison, metalsmith, Gary Coulombe, woodworker, Maria Neal, studio potter, and Heather Piche, stained glass artist. Each equipped the studio with their own individual studio tools. Profits went right back into shared purchases that are owned by Assemble. Partners pay rent, and members' fees contributed to the extras in running a business, like cleaning, air-conditioning, and never-ending coffee.
Assemble had around 20 members in just the past year. Assemble offered over a hundred discounted classes to senior citizens, hosted two art interns, taught private school lessons, had twenty local artists instruct in the spaces, and hosted everything from a two-hour knitting class to six-week sessions on metalsmithing, blacksmithing or throwing clay. The maker community reports that they’ve built community connections with others, raised self-esteem and mental health outcomes, expanded skills and increased earnings.
“Art is essential for everyone's well-being, but it is hard to make a case for the sale of a custom dinner set when people are struggling to pay for their basic living expenses,” said studio potter, Maria Neal. “The inability to gather as groups further inhibits all artists’ ability to sell work and teach which helps fill in the income gaps. During this time, many of us are taking on more domestic caretaking roles within our own families.”
“Assemble has served as a place for me to share my love of glass with so many interested creatives. I will miss it intensely,” said stained glass artist, Heather Piche. “Unfortunately, the pandemic has completely limited my ability to teach and sell. My role as public school teacher as well as family commitments have consumed all of my time - it’s just not sustainable for me anymore. I am optimistic about our future in the art community, but it is on hold for now.”
“The thing I will miss the most is that everytime I went into work on a project, there was a different smiling face and someone to bounce ideas off of. I will also miss seeing all the different creative projects artists were working on” said woodworker, Gary Coulombe.
“This is not a failure, we introduced hundreds of people to crafts and tools they would never otherwise have experienced, many members have graduated to building their own home studio spaces, establishing their own new creative practices, and learned to experiment with new ideas, tools and people,” said metalsmith, Laura Jamison. “People made friends here, they were inspired by one another here, and that will continue in a different way in a future that we cannot yet clearly see.”
During this pause, Assemble may not be working out of a single physical location, but they are still making, creating, and devoting extra time to focus on family. Assemble’s doors will close for the last time on Aug. 30. Makers will have all of August to wrap up in-progress projects.
Assemble’s core group has been part of the local arts community for many years and will continue to work together locally for an artist and maker presence. Assemble artisans make things happen, and will absolutely be committed to highlighting, supporting, showcasing the artist and maker communities (picture us with pom-poms).
Assemble will continue to exist virtually as an artist outreach and community organization that they hope will manifest into another iteration of arts and making in the North Country. Assemble Makers will carry on with their individual studios and future businesses in separate locations as they are able to in this strange time. In the meantime, they ask that you take time to support your favorite local artists and makers by sharing or promoting their work.