DIY For All: Innovation and Inclusivity in the Maker Movement with Prototype

Prototype, a Pittsburgh-based feminist maker collective, illuminated conversations about accessibility and identity in the Maker Arts Space during their visit to campus.

With its wall full of tools and array of 3D printers and laser cutting materials, one of the most innovative and engaging aspects of Haverford’s new VCAM building is the Maker Arts Space, representing the College’s commitment to supporting students wishing to explore the “Maker Movement.”

“The Maker Movement is a term given to the growth of DIY communities through the internet,” explained Maker Arts Technician and Coordinator Kent Watson. “These communities emphasize sharing best practices and knowledge in how to do almost anything from changing the oil in your car to creative coding. What I love about the Maker Movement is the generous spirit I see through it. Instead of having trade secrets, people offer up what they know freely.”

With that generosity in mind, many folks involved in the Maker Movement across the country are seeking to make these spaces accessible to all, regardless of the identities they hold.

“Technology spaces often have invisible barriers, which, unfortunately, can prevent already marginalized populations from utilizing these spaces,” said Watson. “Since the Maker Arts Space was completed last year, students and I have been looking for more ways to minimize those barriers.”

Prototype, a feminist maker collective based in Pittsburgh, has received national recognition for their commitment to hosting workshops and holding space for women, nonbinary people, people of color, and those individuals who hold identities at any intersection of race, class, gender, and ability that are often left out of mainstream conversations in technologically oriented spaces.

“Folks who have been left out need to be centered in these spaces,” said E. Louise Larson, CEO and co-founder of Prototype.

“[The Maker Movement] seems so mysterious and elite in a lot of ways, so what we’re really doing with Prototype is trying to dismantle that,” CEO and co-founder Erin Gatz added.

Self-started, in 2017, Prototype’s approach to making is to provide resources and workshops to the Pittsburgh community, and to use, according to Gatz, “the space itself as a prototype that shifts according to our user needs.”

From workshops on book-binding to lamp-making, Arduino programming to salary negotiation, all of Prototype’s offerings are pay-what-you-can, open to the public, and led by anyone from the community who has a passion for making that they want to share with the group.

Over the last year, Prototype has found success financially and in the media, and is continuing to grow and prosper under Gatz and Larson with the assistance of Operations Manager Bryanna Johnson, who also presented to the audience at Haverford.

“Starting out,” said Gatz, ”we didn’t care if [Prototype] didn’t appeal to people, we just wanted to be weirdos and talk about gender and racial equity, but turns out it’s not as niche of an ideas as we thought.”