Members and staff of Athens Makerspace met alongside Athens residents and supporters of ReUse Industries on Sunday at Passion Works Studio, 20 E. State St., to give attendees an opportunity to discuss the future of Athens Makerspace, which closed this month.
The meeting was called by Passion Works, Rural Action and ACEnet. Athens Makerspace provided members of Athens and the surrounding area a space to create, build, work on projects and take classes in order to pick up or hone skills. The space closed due to the business missing rent payments after moving locations from Columbus Road to West Union Street.
Working closely with ReUse Industries, both programs were funded by nonprofit organization Ultimate Recycling Center and were developed with three final goals, laid out by John Glazer, senior executive in residence for strategic development at the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs.
“ReUse has been a triple bottom line organization,” Glazer, who provided support to the board representing both ReUse Industries and Ultimate Recycling Center as a whole, said. “They’ve been aiming to create social value and benefit people, environment value and increase diversion rates and find reuse for recycled and repurposed material. (They’re also) a financial organization trying to generate enough revenue to support all of those activities, and I think we can say that, for two of those bottom lines (social and environmental), that has been the success of ReUse.”
The lack of financial success led to the subsequent closure of Makerspace and abrupt cancellation of all further classes and access to the studio, even for members that had just paid for a full year membership in December, Glazer said.
Nellie Werger, a costume designer for the Ohio University Opera Theater, frequently enjoyed Makerspace in order to work on her projects. She is one of the numerous people affected by the abrupt closure, locked out of Makerspace and unable to access the personal items she had been working with.
“A couple of mannequins I was working with, with garments on them, and one of the sewing machines I took in there … is just locked in there,” Werger said.
She is resentful that Makerspace gave no warning to the members that it would be locking its doors. Werger said Makerspace told members it would honor its remaining classes, but then proceeded to not make the rent payments, resulting in its doors being locked overnight.
Werger was frustrated with the lack of communication from Makerspace, mentioning that there were many people who would’ve willingly helped pay the nonprofit’s rent payments.
“There are a whole bunch of us that would have been absolutely willing to go out into the community, to write grants, to put up Patreons, whatever to help maintain and not lose it,” Werger said. “But they never gave us a chance … and that’s the part that really, really hurts ... because I believe that the community valued it but … was never given a chance.”
Makerspace subleaser Bruce Brunton has subleased to Makerspace for three years, but he said he, too, is not getting any communication from the board representing Ultimate Recycling Center.
“It becomes a legal issue now, and they don’t want to respond, and nobody’s gonna go in until I hear from the board … But I won’t give it very much time,” Brunton said. “Within a week, I’m going to start putting things in dumpsters and moving it out … even if they want to auction, they’re not going to be able to get in there until some payments have been made.”
Partnerships with universities and querying staff for effective management techniques were among the topics discussed, alongside finding a proper location for the future Makerspace that is affordable, accessible and a proper size.
Faith Knutsen, director of social innovation and entrepreneurship at the Voinovich School, directed a group at the meeting considering governance. Knutsen highlighted a desperate need for transparency and financial literacy training within ReUse Industries.
Stephanie Katterhenrich, an Athens resident who attended the talk, highlighted an importance for there to be more diversity on the board.
“I think that when we talk about whether it’s all women or all men or whatever … it needs to be the best person (for) the job, and they need to be part of the actual job, and it isn’t a secondary thought to them,” Katterhenrich said. “When we get … people who are playing favorites or ... bending rules, that’s when you start to see a lot more of that kind of chaos happen within the structure.”
Ultimate Recycling Center is now working with the Athens County Common Pleas Court in order to begin a judicial dissolution process of the organization, Glazer said.
“Over the course of time, the court will review the circumstances of the organization … and will assess whether or not the judgment of people is correct that it cannot sustain under its current model,” Glazer said. “It will approve a winding down plan to bring the organization to an end. What that does for us is it makes ReUse reimagined a viable task.”