By Andrea Kjaer
Atlanta, Georgia is often referred to as a tech capital of the South, but it isn’t all because of big business—it’s also because of the cutting-edge learning community built and sustained by enthusiastic individuals within the city.
In this day and age, education doesn’t end with graduation from a traditional school: meetup groups, innovation hubs, makerspaces and learning communities of all kinds exist to help knowledge-hungry thinkers continue to expand their horizons no matter where they are in life.
Freeside Atlanta makerspace represents one of Atlanta’s best offerings as a diverse group of people working hard, learning a lot, and doing what they love.
“I moved to Atlanta so I could have access to communities like this,” says Maggie Kane, a small business owner, who is also a board member, treasurer and organizer at Freeside Atlanta. “My company has been able to expand rapidly because of this resource.”
“Makerspaces function like continuing education for people who are always hungry to learn new things. My background was in the design industry, but I wanted to learn the technical side of operations. Freeside helped me do that.”
Engineers, programmers, hobbyists, carpenters, welders, gamers, knitters and hobbyists—quite simply, makers of all kinds—gather at Freeside to use the tools and to access social capital, individual expertise and the collective minds of others.
“Anyone in Atlanta can come to Freeside and learn something,” Kane said. “No previous education or experience is necessary. Ask how a circuit works, and someone will volunteer to teach you.”
At local makerspaces, it’s easy to find both group settings for the social hobbyist or individual attention to help a beginner take the first step to writing their first line of code or making their first cut with a miter saw.
With sewing machines, vinyl cutters, drill presses, power tools, welding equipment, 3D printers and a host of willing teachers from many trades, these venues regularly help fulfill the dreams of hobbyists, DIY-ers and self-motivated entrepreneurs.
Most makerspaces make money like your local gym does—charging monthly user fees (in addition to materials). Some workshops and classes have additional costs, but they are marginal compared to the skyrocketing costs of college tuition. Many makerspaces are run by passionate volunteers who really want to see others succeed.
The budding operations of the local makerspaces also have an impact on the community. For example, Freeside Atlanta is partnering with Woodruff Park for a Pop-Up Repair event. People can bring in their broken appliances, clothing, jewelry and electronics, and a team of experienced and new makers will take a week or two to repair and return the items. People will have their junk made new, and a few fixers will learn valuable, new skills.
Marietta Maker Station, a smaller facility outside the perimeter, often forms ad-hoc alliances with local organizations. Several years ago, they met a teacher at a maker faire in Stockbridge who had two students who were born without hands. Using the 3D printing tools in their shop, they were able to make functional prosthetics.
Last year, Walton High School students participating in a senior design STEM project partnered with a local business that makes electronic theatre props, but they were only able to work together because the Marietta Maker Station provided a viable workshop and tools to meet their needs.
Similarly, Engineering for Kids of Metro Atlanta has a premium membership to the Marietta Maker Station, which allows them to use the space to host a STEM day camp for elementary and middle schoolers.
MASS Collective, Decatur Makers (featured here and here), Invention Studio at Georgia Tech and Geekspace Gwinnett are similar institutions, and each of them have a opportunities to get involved year round.
At the annual DragonCon, there is a maker village. Electronics and robotics have a large role in the realm of cosplay at the event, and given the level of general nerdiness involved, it’s not too surprising that many makers are enthusiasts. Local makerspaces also participate in the annual Maker Faire in Atlanta, the Atlanta Science Festival, and other technology conferences. Makers also pop up in surprising places like the Tiny House festival in Decatur, the Atlanta BeltLine Lantern Parade and other iconic cultural events.
To be a part of the maker revolution and see what’s available in your area, check out the schedule of events below.
Every second and fourth Tuesday at 7:30, Tuesday Night Open House, Freeside Atlanta, 675 Metropolitan Pkwy SW Ste #6066, Atlanta, GA. For a complete list of events, visit meetup.com.
Sept. 24-30, Pop-Up Repair Shop, Woodruff Park, 91 Peachtree St NW, Atlanta, GA, see website for hours.
Oct. 1, Intro to Welding: MIG Safety and Basics, MASS Collective, 364 Nelson St SW, Atlanta, GA. Register and see details on website.
Oct. 22, Maker Faire Atlanta, Georgia Freight Depot, Atlanta GA.
Lead photo courtesy of Freeside Atlanta.