In 2011 Haystack established a fab lab – a digital fabrication facility that augments other studio practices. Fab labs, a program of Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for Bits and Atoms, are an international network of small scale digital fabrication labs. Fab labs are located in Afghanistan, Columbia, Costa Rica, Germany, Ghana, Iceland, India, Kenya, Netherlands, Norway, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and United States.
The Haystack fab lab is the result of a collaboration with MIT. Haystack’s visiting artist studio was expanded to accommodate the fab lab and a new artist space, built in 2012, is now the visiting artist studio. The Haystack fab lab includes a CNC router, laser cutter, 3D printer, milling machines, sign center, and computer terminals. For the 2011 season the studio was open during summer sessions, staffed by technical assistants from MIT, AS220, Brown University, and Harvard Graduate School of Design. Session faculty and students experimented with digital fabrication, fostering a dialogue about the creative process, ingenuity, technology, and the work of the hand.
Haystack and the MIT fab lab were featured on the NPR show To the Best of Our Knowledge on May 19th. Listen to the interview with Haystack’s Director Stuart Kestenbaum and fab lab founder and MIT professor Neil Gershenfeld.
As a central part of its mission, Haystack has developed programs that look at craft in a broader context. In 2002, Haystack held its first invitational symposium, Digital Dialogues: Technology and the Hand, in collaboration with the MIT Media Lab. In 2009, Neil Gershenfeld, Director of MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms, and founder of the fab lab program, was a workshop leader for the school’s Summer Conference and in 2010 he returned to Haystack as a visiting scientist during our third session. Three doctoral students from the MIT program served as technical assistants, offering instruction in digital fabrication to Haystack faculty, staff, and students.
Digital Fabrication Tools for Teachers and Students
Gaining knowledge of fab lab equipment requires extensive training. In 2012 Haystack began an initiative to create a local peer-to-peer network within the community, for expanded training and use of the Haystack fab lab year-round. From May-October equipment is housed in the fab lab studio on Haystack’s campus for use by workshop participants and Haystack staff. When the campus is closed from November-April, digital fabrication equipment and tools are moved to the school’s Center for Community Programs in Deer Isle village, providing a convenient and accessible space for the teachers and students from the local schools to attend training sessions and use the equipment. The new facility also provides opportunities for Haystack to work more closely with technology programs in the local schools—last winter and spring, thanks to pilot funding from the Surdna Foundation, we worked with staff from AS220, a Providence, Rhode Island-based arts organization that has a fab lab in place. Haystack staff members have continued to train alongside the teachers and students from participating schools. Working with Deer Isle-Stonington High School and George Stevens Academy teachers and administrators Haystack will be developing programs that encourage hands-on design and participation by the students.
Check out AS220 Lab Goes to Haystack! Blog by James Rutter, graduate student at MIT and Session 1 Haystack fab lab technician.
Since 2012, AS220 technicians Elliot Clapp and James Rutter have led more training sessions supported by the Maine Arts Commission’s Innovative Production program, a donor advised fund of the Maine Community Foundation, the Stephen & Tabitha King Foundation, Surdna Foundation, and Haystack’s Program Endowment Fund. The most recent sessions involved using the vinyl cutter and shopbot.
One of the goals of fab labs is to provide opportunities for rural communities to design and create the tools they want or need to solve local problems. Activities might range from technological empowerment and peer-to-peer project-based technical training to small-scale business incubation and grass-roots research. And because all fab labs share core capabilities so that people and projects can be shared across them, collaboration among users is an essential aspect of the overall program. Once people are trained, they can begin training others.
Haystack’s fab lab training for community members–teachers and students from Deer Isle/Stonington and the Blue Hill Peninsula–has been supported by grants from an anonymous foundation, the Maine Arts Commission’s Innovative Production program, the Stephen & Tabitha King Foundation, the Surdna Foundation, and Haystack’s Program Endowment Fund.