Talent Maker City working to secure site

With hopes of nurturing a center of creativity for craftspeople, manufacturers and artists in Southern Oregon, Talent Maker City is doing due diligence to increase its chance of success.

Four Talent residents attended a makerspace summit in Brooklyn last May and formed the nucleus of a group working to establish a center here. Makerspaces, community centers with tools, have arisen across the country to provide places for prototyping, light manufacturing and art.

“It may seem like we are not making a lot of progress to the community, but we are really trying to do a lot of groundwork,” said Allison French, an artist, teacher and city planning commissioner. “We want it to be solid from day one so it will be thriving.”

So far the group has obtained a business license, established a website, worked on securing tax-exempt status, and worked with the city to include a makerspace as part of Talent’s economic plan that is under development. Group representatives will meet with the Talent Urban Renewal Agency in January.

“We are optimistic that we can get a space as part of their plan of revitalizing downtown,” said French. “People could walk around and see artists working and making things, and perhaps there would be retail.”

The May summit, attended by French, mosaic artist Karen Rycheck, Mayor Darby Stricker and woodworker Ryan Wilcoxson, was sponsored by Etsy, an online retailer of arts and crafts. Talent was the smallest city selected to attend the conference, which included teams from Los Angeles and Chicago. French, Rycheck and Wilcoxson have all sold work through Etsy.

Two more people have been added to the leadership team: Joe Wismann, director of operations at Brammo, and Tom Cline, a retail manager with REI. The entire group meets every other week, and Cline, Wismann and Wilcoxson also meet every other week to work on business aspects such as securing nonprofit status.

The group will pursue funding from government, foundation and education sources, said French. Leaders are also talking with people who want to donate equipment for a makerspace, although they aren’t accepting any donations now while they look for storage space.

“Everything’s coming along as we work to establish our organization’s identity, what we want to do, how we want to serve the community,” said Wilcoxson. “As we make connections, we’ve identified other niches besides a makerspace where people can make things.”

Collaborating organizations include the Talent Arts and Cultural Foundation, Etsy, Brammo, Kindred Spirits, Talent Chamber of Commerce, the city, The Valley School and Southern Oregon STEM.

The group will collaborate with Rogue Valley Council of Governments and serve as host for a Fix-it-Faire at Brammo next summer or fall, said Wilcoxson. Classes on textiles may be offered in January, with other classes being discussed.

Talent Maker City was at the recent Rogue Valley Mini-Maker Faire at ScienceWorks in Ashland, explaining the makerspace concept to many who hadn’t heard about it and passing out paper airplanes, the organization’s symbol.

“We went with the paper airplane, because that is usually the first thing people make as a kid,” said French.

More information can be found at www.talentmakercity.com.

— Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

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