I’m part of a group of local Kitchener/Waterloo makers/tinkerers/artists who have recently banded together to form a group called Kwartzlab (say quartz-lab). Just wanted to let you know a bit about it in case, in your travels, you come across like-minded people with whom you could connect us. Here’s the scoop:
What: Kwartzlab is a “hacker space“, which is to say a group and a place where local people from different disciplines come together to work on cool projects, collaborate with each other, and make all sorts of things from electronic gadgets to elaborate costumes to robots to art installations to interesting software. We’re all about the positive connotations of “hacking” in the sense of fusing art and technology and repurposing materials for our projects. Hacker spaces are an emerging phenomenon in North America in the past year and have been described as a “YMCA for geeks”. Kwartzlab is incorporated as a not-for-profit organization governed by an elected board of seven directors.
Why: Kitchener-Waterloo offers the “perfect storm” of makers who have the techical skills, artistic interests, determination and desire to create. It turns out that all of us have been tinkering away on our projects in our basements and backyards for years, but mostly on our own. With the emergence of hacker spaces, we now have a sort of catalyst to all come together, get organized, and support each other. A really powerful outcome of this fusion is the cross-pollination that happens when a group with diverse skills comes together to create something that none could have created on their own. In short, the answer to “why?” is “to make stuff“.
Where: our brand new, space (video link) has been leased in the former Boehmer Box building at 283 Duke Street West in Kitchener. We have a 1600 sqft unit that we’re currently working very hard to clean up and outfit with workbenches, lockers, tools, and equipment for making.
Who: Kwartzlab currently has 31 paying members who range in age from early 20′s to north of 40. The group is composed of students, hardware and software experts from local high tech companies, artists, and a significant number of local small-business owners. The thing we all have in common is we love to make stuff. And we’re actively seeking new members!
When: the idea of a local hacker space got started via a blog posting and subsequent meeting of strangers at a coffee house back in April 2009. That progressed to an informal steering committee that met weekly at The University of Waterloo through May and June. On July 9, 2009, after much surveying of potential members and lots of legwork, we had our first official meeting where we elected a board of directors, chose a name and organizational structure, and laid the groundwork for incorporation. Through July and August, the board worked at lightspeed to incorporate, set up bank accounts, register for GST, engage legal assistance, get insurance, and search out suitable commercial real estate candidates. That brings us to August 15, 2009 when we signed our first lease for the unit on Duke Street. Since then we have been a cleaning force to be reckoned with and we’ve honed our scrounging skills as we attempt to outfit our new space on a shoestring budget.
How Much: at this point our group is entirely self-funded by our members who each have paid a $100 initiation fee and, beginning Sept 1, 2009 $50/month dues. This core group of 31 members really took a leap of faith to throw their money into the hat, believing strongly in the project and in our ability to get it done. We’re a thrifty bunch, relying on donated materials and services, and we’re maintaining a conservative financial stance to weather the inevitable turbulence of a start-up organization.
A Mini Portfolio: in addition to all the organizational work going on, we’ve worked very hard to continue doing what we love to do: making stuff. To give you a bit more concrete idea of what that looks like, here are a selection of links to blog postings on a few of our meetups:
- DIY & DJ’s – Waterloo Public Square
- Metal Casting meetup
- Arduino microcontroller meetup
- Learn To Solder meetup
- Maker Social meetups
If I haven’t lost you to this point I’ll say thank you for taking the time to learn a bit about Kwartzlab. I believe it is an emerging gem that illustrates a lot of the unique and positive forces at work in our community. Of course we are happy to answer any questions about Kwartzlab, and I try to keep the world up to date on our progress through my blog.
Darin White, Director, Kwartzlab