By Rebecca Pettyjohn
Bubbler Project Assistant, Madison Public Library
When we decided to get on the Makerspace train at Madison Public Library and create the Bubbler, there was a long—possibly too long—conversation about how much a 3D printer cost, what kind to get, and where to get one. And then, we realized we would have no idea what to do with it when we got it. It seemed super easy to get wrapped up in the idea of flashy equipment and start-up costs and ignore some of the things we already knew made Madison great. Madison is a community of artists and makers, and more importantly, a community of artists and makers that LOVE Madison. So, we changed our approach. Invest in people, not stuff. We started an Artist in Residence program. We weren’t quite sure what it would look like at the time, but we were determined to learn as we went on.
Capitalizing on the huge breadth of knowledge and skills in Madison, we invited artists and makers to use our Bubbler space as their studio. They would bring their stuff and set up shop for a month (or three!) and share their work with whoever stopped by. Our artists commit to be in the space two days a week (whatever works best for them: evenings, weekends, or all day on Tuesdays), but we’ve learned consistency is key. That way, we and our librarians and patrons know when to find them and how to advertise their presence. We also ask them to offer a couple of workshops each month, all free and open to the public. However, we’ve found once they’ve caught the community investment bug, they usually want to do more. It is hard to resist a group of kindergartners on a tour of the library who want to make a collage. Or to say “no” to the opportunity to do an outreach workshop to the Madison Juvenile Detention Center.
Through these workshops and drop in opportunities, we are creating a space for all ages with hands on, informal learning through making in our library. We started by asking our friends, performers, and artists who had been doing workshops with us for years at the library—a book maker, a screen printer, a woodworker, a hacker. We watched it grow and start to gain momentum….and get a lot of press.
We soon realized, with the large gallery spaces available in our new building, we had potential to tap into a whole new artistic community so we could start making new friends. Not only did we have people vying for our Artist in Residence position, our previous residents didn’t want to leave us. We have been able to create series of continuing workshops, building art cars and pulling screens, at the Madison Central library, but also at our neighborhood libraries helping to push our system-wide initiatives.
This spring, we released our first application for Artists in Residence on our website and received three applications during the first week it was up. We are excited to expand our program’s diversity of makers. And we are consistently reaffirmed that our commitment to people, not stuff, is what will drive our program.