he Haystack fab lab has become an integral part of our mission to think broadly about the field of craft. Developed in 2011, in collaboration with Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for Bit’s and Atoms, the fab lab is a digital fabrication facility that serves as a complement to Haystack’s existing programs. Housing some of the newest equipment and tools in rapid prototyping, artists in residence, conference presenters, and workshop participants continue to explore new approaches to materials and processes examining the connections between craft and emerging technologies.
Fab labs, a program of MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms, are an international network of small scale digital fabrication labs. Fab labs — of which there are now over 400 worldwide — are located in places such as Afghanistan, Columbia, Costa Rica, Germany, Ghana, Iceland, India, Kenya, Netherlands, Norway, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and the United States.
The Haystack fab lab includes a CNC router, laser cutter, 3D printer, milling machines, sign center, and computer terminals. For the summer season the studio is open during workshop sessions. MIT doctoral students and
personnel, as well as other members of the fab lab network who come from around the world staff the fab lab. They work in collaboration with program participants with a wide range of experience levels, while also working on developing projects of their own.
Haystack and the MIT fab lab were featured on the NPR show To the Best of Our Knowledge in May 2013. Listen to the interview with Haystack’s former 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.
The Haystack fab lab is the recipient of a Distinguished Educators Award from the James Renwick Alliance
At the April 2016 Educator Awards Brunch: Innovation & Exploration, at the Renwick Gallery in Washington, DC, Haystack’s director, Paul Sacaridiz, accepted a Distinguished Educators Award on behalf of the Haystack fab lab. He also spoke about Haystack and how the digital fabrication studio is being used. The biennial award is presented by the James Renwick Alliance to individuals or organizations in the craft world who have made significant and pioneering contributions in craft education. We were honored to accept this award—the first given to a program—which acknowledges the influence of Haystack’s digital fabrication lab on the work that we do at the school and how that work has reached outwards from the campus to impact the broader field.
Digital Fabrication Tools for Teachers and Students
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.
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.
For the past four years Haystack has offered digital fabrication training to area students and educators using different models of instruction and programming. In 2016, we expanded staffing and equipment for our winter fab lab and have been working in the local schools on integrated learning projects. By bringing specific fab lab equipment into the schools we are able to provide programming where schools need it the most and the format can attract more participation by students—having the resources available in their daily environment allows us to share and demonstrate what the digital fabrication equipment is and how it can be applied to the work they are doing in their classes.
Through Haystack’s fab lab training and programs with local students and educators we introduce craft and technology to a larger community. It emphasizes the importance of arts in education and as a profession, and demonstrates possibilities for practical applications and integration into the school curriculum.
Haystack’s 2015–2016 fab lab programs were supported by the Davis Family Foundation, Island Education Foundation of the Maine Community Foundation, and the Hancock County Fund of the Maine Community Foundation. Pilot funding from the SURDNA Foundation helped Haystack launch it’s local fab lab programming and Haystack’s fab lab initiatives with area students and teachers have also been supported by the Maine Arts Commission, the Stephen & Tabitha King Foundation, an anonymous foundation, and Haystack’s Program Endowment Fund.
Check out AS220 Lab Goes to Haystack! Blog by James Rutter, graduate student at MIT and Session 1 Haystack fab lab technician.