Department of Making + Doing

University City Science Center

Funding Received: 2013
Philadelphia, PA
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
December 10, 2013

It was 7:35 on Wednesday evening last week, and I was not supposed to be at the Department of Making + Doing (DM+D). With a host of youth-led Tiny WPA placemaking projects in process and special related events for Greenbuild rapidly approaching, I desperately needed to leave many hours earlier to gather building materials and prep. But at 7:35 that evening neither the impending loss of sleep nor the increasingly impossible to meet deadlines mattered, largely because of Nicholas (aka Chazz) a 7th grader with an irrepressible desire to make things.

To be clear, it wasn’t Chazz’s passion for “making,” his obvious excitement rifling through bins of old computer parts or how quickly he learned how to use Adobe Illustrator and the laser cutter that had me smiling. Breadboard, The Hacktory and Public Workshop are all deeply committed to the Department of Making + Doing because we understand how Chazz is the rule rather than the exception and that the opportunities are limited for not just 7th graders but everyone to ‘make and do’ great things. Indeed, last Wednesday was already fantastic because DM+D was ‘humming’ all afternoon with a wide variety of Public Workshop’s teens and young designers--our Building Heroes--hanging out and having a great time making things to improve their schools, but Chazz was different. Instead of coming for a specific program put on by Breadboard, The Hacktory or Public Workshop, having heard about DM+D from friends at his school, he simply wandered in off of the street, curious and ready to build.

At first glance this might seem inconsequential, but teens can be a remarkably fickle bunch and Chazz’s appearance at 5:00 on a Wednesday at DM+D, especially as a 7th grader, is actually pretty monumental. This is even more impressive given that The Department of Making + Doing is located in a bit of a no-man’s land in Philadelphia where in the evenings the only passersby are Drexel students headed out on the town and dialysis patients visiting the nearby clinic. When bringing together diverse groups of young adults or community members from across the City for specific programming, this absence of a sense of ‘territory’ can be a tremendous asset for fostering more open collaboration, learning and co-creation. However, the substantial physical disconnect from nearby neighborhoods means that attracting regular walk-in traffic and transforming the Department of Making + Doing into a “third place” for youth from surrounding neighborhoods, especially since we are so new, is particularly challenging.

But Chazz’s visit, in fact the day as a whole were incredible ‘pinch-me-this-is-how-it-should-be’ moments as well as tipping points in our collective efforts to transform the ‘shell’ we were given into a vibrant place for making and doing great things in Philadelphia. That being said, we still have a considerable amount of work to do to make sure last Wednesday and Chazz are not anomalies.

Starting November 23rd with a Make Your Philly Holiday family gift making workshop, over the next couple of months we will be rolling out more obvious ways--classes, workshops and ‘open’ after school make-a-thons--through which anyone can regularly get involved at DM+D. We will be formalizing and better supporting existing programming like Drop In And Do and Public Workshop’s Building Hero Project, to grow existing DM+D user groups that have already given a lot to make DM+D vibrant. In January we will start conducting ‘making’ oriented focus groups with potential DM+D user groups like the Science Center’s research scientists and with nearby community development corporations to create targeted programming that appeals to them. Lastly, passersby seem to be pretty excited about our new ‘Make Stuff Here’ vinyl window graphics, but we need to do a lot more to make the space comfortable, inspiring and a second home for visitors and the DM+D community.

Food is an essential tool for accomplishing creative placemaking and our new popcorn popper is great, but we can’t wait to acquire a stove.