With a Lot of Help from our Friends

by | May 24, 2018 | Blog, Curiosity Piqued

People often wonder how we get so much done at the Randall with only five full time staff. The truth is, we get a lot of help from our friends. A great case in point is our new Fab Lab, “The Garage”. You’ve probably heard the term “Fab Lab”, but might be wondering exactly what it means. It’s shorthand for a small, digital fabrication workshop — meaning, a workshop with tools that are computer controlled. These tools can range widely — from CNC routers and milling machines, laser cutters, plasma cutters, waterjet cutters, knife cutters, and 3D printers to tiny microprocessors like Arduino and Raspberry Pi. Each of these tools can range wildly in quality, capacity and price, and can require a mysterious array of support equipment to function properly. What’s found in any particular Fab Lab will be determined by three factors: space, pedagogical focus, and budget.

When we decided to create The Garage, our goal was to make these new digital technologies available to everyone. We wanted to teach kids and adults, we wanted our classes to be low cost and high quality, serious, sustainable and fun. We had a space, and we had a budget. We ‘just’ needed to figure out the right equipment and the right curriculum. This was a challenge for a group of non-millennials; there’s not a digital native among us. Fortunately, we are intrepid researchers, excellent networkers and have many friends who were happy to help us.

The Garage Before and After

We began by visiting former Randall Board member Mike Matthews at Katherine Burke School’s two dedicated maker spaces, collectively known as “The Makery.” Their approach integrated 3d printers, vinyl cutters, coding and microprocessors with more traditional maker skill-sets like sewing, clay and wire modeling.

Next, we made quite a few visits to the Digital Craft Labs at California College of the Arts. We spoke with students, faculty and studio technicians and paid close attention to the layout of the labs and the choice of equipment. We spent lots of time in the Digital Arts Research Center at the University of California Santa Cruz, and got plenty of wise advice from Jennifer Parker and the team at UCSC’s Open Lab, and from faculty and students in the Digital Arts New Media Program there. We left UCSC, by the way, with two very important instructors, Joel Dream and Steven Trimmer, (who inaugurated The Garage with courses on creative electronics and laser cutting), and two new exhibits for the Randall: Oceanic Scales (temporarily on display in the Oceans Exhibit) and Birdharp (in the Animal Room). Joel designed and built Birdharp; both Steven and Joel have made important contributions to curriculum design and equipment selection and setup.

The folks at Autodesk’s Pier Nine Residency here in San Francisco were absolutely crucial to our success. Autodesk develops software for architecture, engineering, construction and manufacturing. Notably, Autodesk provides free educational versions of all its software to students, educators and qualified non-profits (that’s us!).

Gabby Patin and Mei Yen Shipek at Autodesk

Autodesk has set up a phenomenal R&D fabrication lab on Pier 9, and invites researchers, engineers, inventors and artists from all over the world to work and play with industrial scale equipment. We spent many hours talking with Shop Leads Mei Yen Shipek and Gabby Patin. Mei helped us figure out which laser cutter best suited our needs, and guided us through shop set up. Gabby’s an expert on 3D printing, software and electronics. Both have been invaluable and generous consultants. We’re very impressed by Autodesk’s commitment to creativity in education, and by its institutional generosity. Thanks Mei, thanks, Gabby, and thanks, Autodesk.

One last shout out to the Paton Group in West Oakland, who sold us our laser printer, helped us set it up and continue to provide technical support and advice. If you are thinking of buying digital fabrication and prototyping equipment in an educational setting, we highly recommend our friends Seth, Rick and Ryan at Paton Group.

Installing the Laser Cutter
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