A space to create in downtown Brainerd
WRITTEN BY EMILEE MAE STRUSS | PHOTOGRAPHED by JEFF COLLINS
There’s a new business in downtown Brainerd, Minnesota, riding on the coattails of the DIY (do it yourself) movement: Minnesota Makerspace.
Minnesota Makerspace was one of three finalists in a heated competition to revive downtown Brainerd. The finalists, announced in 2019, included two other businesses’ dreams of expansion. The Crow Wing Food Co-op and Loidé Oils & Vinegars secured spots downtown to grow each of their missions. Minnesota Makerspace was the only start-up business in the trio of finalists.
On January 1, 2021, Chris Smith will celebrate the one-year anniversary of singing Minnesota Makerspace’s lease on South 7th Street in downtown Brainerd. The actual celebration, however, should be on March 1—the day he opened the doors to the public. For two months, Smith spent all of his time in the studio designing, building, and preparing to launch this adopted dream.
“The makerspace idea is growing quickly,” Smith said. “It’s this whole DIY movement of people wanting a space to create and learn new things.”
Smith calls it a “maker-movement.” Hundreds are popping up across the United States, most of them taking root as nonprofits. Although Minnesota Makerspace is not a nonprofit, their plan is to share their space complete with woodworking tools, laser-engraver machine, CNC (computer numerical control) machine, and plans to expand.
Walking into Minnesota Makerspace, and even standing outside the shop, it’s clear that someone in the business understands design. And understands it well. Smith studied graphic design at Central Lakes College in Staples, Minnesota. After graduation, he spent the next seven years in the apparel design industry.
His first spark of inspiration came from touring the multiple makerspaces in Minneapolis. Thereafter, Smith spotted them all across Minnesota. The lack of a space for woodworkers, artists, and dreamers to gather in the Brainerd Lakes Area encouraged Smith to begin the planning process.
“Unlike a traditional workshop, makerspaces have larger machines with capabilities such as woodworking, robotics, and doing bigger projects,” Smith said. “It really depends on the needs and desires of the community that creates the space and what is available in it.”
What’s the ultimate dream? Smith isn’t far from the reality of it. “My ultimate dream with this place is for it to be a job shop for the community. There will be classes here, people offer to teach the craft that they know, and we can hold local trainings.”
With the front of the space open, the retail part, Smith has held numerous birthday parties for kids.
“Birthday parties where the kids learn to do a craft like making a wood kit from a cut-out and painting it are really popular right now,” Smith said. “There are all types of things they can make—puzzles, robots, a bird feeder, and the newest one I have yet to try myself is to make a wooden ukulele.”
Minnesota Makerspace also hosts classes for adults to learn entry-level woodworking and make their own home décor. Prior classes held include making a DIY wooden lantern, a wooden sign, and a mason jar sign.
“We do some fine art stuff, but mainly it’s more woodworking, and bigger projects,” Smith said. “We want to be respectful of our neighbor, The Crossing Arts Alliance, because that’s their niche area.
Smith’s favorite project so far is the large wooden sign outside his storefront. He says it’s a fun challenge and something new for him to create. There has been a chain-reaction with the creation of his wooden sign, as other businesses have requested that Smith make their signs as well.
Minnesota Makerspace is still in its infancy. If community members want to get involved—there is much space to do so. Visit mnmakerspace.com for opportunities to volunteer, teach a class, or make a donation. All of the information to sign up for classes and purchase a membership to work in the shop are online as well.
Some details, Smith said with a hushed-voice, cannot be shared just yet. They’re still dreams in the works. To learn more about those, you might just have to go speak with the dreamer himself.