Department of Making + Doing

University City Science Center

Funding Received: 2013
Philadelphia, PA
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
March 11, 2014

LED Pop-up Valentines were a huge hit this month; photo by Colette Fu

Our new placemaking indicator . . . birthdays!

At the Department of Making + Doing, progress in the past month has taken a variety of forms. One of the biggest changes is new storage for various program materials—an essential development for fostering an inviting workspace. New staff have also been hired to facilitate the second session of our afterschool program piloted at a local middle school, and our partner organizations have started exploring business models for sustained funding that doesn’t rely solely on grants. (We got a great tip: “maker” birthday parties might be a huge hit.)

Some of the recent highlights in this time have included a great Pop-Up LED Valentine’s workshop, which sold out with 20 participants. A few of our partner organizations have worked with artist Colette Fu, who developed and taught the class, which was a work in progress for several years. Having Colette be as prepared and confident in teaching the content as she was (someone who mostly is self-taught in electronics) and selling out the available spots were in equal parts a great win and confirmation of the type of programming our audience would like in the future. In addition, we had a subsequent valentine’s gift-making event, with another great turnout and lots of great feedback. Many participants were first-time visitors, but lived very close by or worked in the building. Those who came stayed the entire three hours, until we had to pack up the supplies and clean up the tables.

Another venue in which we had a similarly warm response was back at the local middle school as we started up our afterschool program again. This is at the Lea middle school in West Philly, which has had a lot to contend with from the district this year. On our first day, we got multiple greetings of “Welcome back!” from the teachers, knowing asides from other afterschool facilitators that “they missed you,” and a lot of enthusiasm from students who participated in the pilot program. Though many students selected other programs to attend, several decided to choose our program again for their elective period, and though they weren’t the most engaged students from the first session, they arrived eager to make new projects. A second group of older students has started coming a little after the school day is over, telling each other “Oh they make the coolest projects in here.” By far the most popular project is the ice cream made with cream and sugar, shaken up in a bag surrounded by ice and rock salt. It made a mess but almost two months later the students are still talking and bragging about doing it.


Making straw structures as tall as possible on the first day of “How Things Work” afterschool program; photo by Georgia Guthrie

Other developments of merit in the area included national news of five “Promise Zones” designated by the Obama administration as qualifying for extra points on federal funding applications. Our space at 3711 Market is in the southern part of one such zone in West Philly. Knowing the community organizations serving the neighborhood, we are happy for the recognition of the need and extra attention to this section of the city, and look forward to applying our skills to aid their efforts. Lastly, we had a spontaneous and heartwarming happening, which showed that our efforts to make a “home” in our place are paying off. Manny, a frequent attendee of project night and our workshops showed up several weeks ago with a project as usual. Towards the end of the night, he pulled a cake out of the fridge, added candles, and said, “Hey, will you all celebrate my birthday with me?” We were happy to oblige and sang a loud round of Happy Birthday as he blew out the candles. As we were passing out cake (carrot cake, great choice) Manny said, “this is the best birthday I’ve had.” We told him we were glad to be part of it, and thanked him for making it happen.


Thanks for giving us a chance to be part of your birthday Manny! Photo by Mike Darfler

For those of us immersed in the arts, community enrichment and creative placemaking, we know the value of moments like this. We also know that sometimes it seems that we need to speak a totally different language to communicate with people immersed in the worlds of revenue and business models. When communicating across that barrier is an absolute must for project completion or continuation without total disaster, what is the best approach to take? Try to perform numerical gymnastics to come up with dollar figures to quantify these moments, or invite them to experience these moments, or something else?

To wrap up: Our month has mostly been filled with snow, slush and ice. Surprisingly, foot traffic is still steady, and we’ve continued to have new visitors drop by on off-hours. One pair recently said they were exploring the area in preparation for opening a co-working space nearby. Very exciting to think what might develop when the weather improves!