aystack’s fab lab was established in 2011 and has quickly become an integral part of our mission to think broadly about the field of craft. Fab labs, an educational outreach component of MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms, are an international network of over 400 small-scale digital fabrication facilities that spans 30 countries and 24 time zones. Fab labs provide connection to a global community of learners, educators, technologists, researchers, makers, and innovators.
Haystack is the only craft school in the United States that is part of this network, and in 2016 our lab was recognized with the Distinguished Educators Award from the James Renwick Alliance, for pioneering contributions to craft education—the first given to a program. During the winter months Haystack provides fab lab access to our local community through projects in the schools and digital fabrication training at our winter office.
At Haystack, the fab lab serves as a complement to our existing programs, and no prior experience is required to use the lab. We partner with trained professionals from MIT, Harvard Graduate School of Design, AS220, and fab labs around the world to staff the lab and provide access to artists in residence, conference presenters, faculty, and workshop participants. The culture found in the Haystack fab lab is one of experimentation, risk taking, and collaboration.
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.
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.