The Plan for Maram

I posted this in our local progressives group, am copying it here, mostly as an update for people following along with the makerspace efforts from the last two years. It’s not gone! Just slowed down a bit.

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Hey, folks. So, a question about hosting political conversation in Oak Park. This will be a little complicated, requiring some background.

• two years ago, a group of us, including Carollina Song, tried to put together a non-profit makerspace for Oak Park. We did a budget and quite a lot of research and planning. Maram Makerspace would eventually incorporate shared tools to use there (like 3D printers, laser cutters, embroidery machines), a tool library, workshops and classes, and space rental. (Maram means tree in my native Tamil, and we liked the imagery of a tree spreading out branches and roots of different kinds of making.)

• The hope was to do a space in Oak Park that initially focused on tech, textiles, and writing, but that might eventually expand to Forest Park (in partnership with Urban Pioneer Group), Berwyn, Austin, etc. (Austin, in particular, has warehouse space available affordably), encouraging partnerships and crossing over borders with our neighbors. In expanding, we might be able to incorporate wood and metal workshops, cooking spaces, etc.

• We applied for a $50,000 Big Idea grant, were finalists, but didn’t win the grant. That slowed us down a little, but last March, we were about to put down a year’s rent on a space in Forest Park (more budget-friendly), when the pandemic hit. It seemed irresponsible to start bringing people together in a space right then, so we moved the project to the back burner for a while

• I’m slowly starting it up again, having conversations with people about available spaces, fundraising, etc. As part of that, I realized that we can start fairly quickly with a website / magazine / podcast / virtual classes, so we’re moving ahead with that part this spring.

• Here’s the political piece — the plan for Maram Magazine is to have a decidedly progressive bent generally, and more concretely, to have blogging about gardening, cooking, tech making, writing — but also, local politics. (Eventually, I’d like to have a local + global spin on the whole thing.) I’m hoping to persuade Paul Goyette to let us publish some regular photos from him, for example.

• We will not be trying to replicate what the Wednesday Journal does — we’re not planning to be a newspaper. But I know that I would love a centralized place I could go to, where I know I’d find info on local news of interest to progressives. Where I’d hear about the challenge to Anthony Clark’s candidacy in time to maybe do some good about it, or hear that there’s going to be a protest in front of Brooks to support teachers, or hear about the vigil in front of L!ve Cafe, after a brick was thrown at their door.

• Here’s the ask: If you’re someone who has an interest in political blogging, and might want to write for or (even better) curate / edit the political column on the site, I would love to talk to you. We’re organizing the project on Slack, so you’d need to be willing to use that if you want to be an organizer. Blog writers would just be using WordPress to post their blogs. We can train you easily on either / both of those — they’re very simple and intuitive, and shouldn’t take more than 15-30 minutes to learn.

• Is it paid? you may wonder. Blogging is unpaid for now, but we’d be working towards paying writers / photographers within the first year. Organizational work is also unpaid for now, but ditto that we’d be working towards paying for that down the road. I believe strongly that labor should be paid, at a fair wage, generally. I also think that sometimes a group of dedicated volunteers can change the world. The first budget priority will be space rental, and then all else will hopefully follow.

• If you’re interested in teaching or blogging about tech, textiles, or writing, feel free to let me know that too. We’re putting together a list. For bloggers, we’ll be asking for a writing sample — a few paragraphs or a page, unpublished is fine. For teachers, we’re planning on a 50/50 tuition split. (We did some in-person workshops over the last few years along those lines.)

Okay, that’s the pitch. I’m working from home today (ha ha — I’m always doing that, but I mean that I have a day of quiet e-mail work that isn’t eaten up by teaching classes or hosting meetings), so it’s a good day for me to keep an eye on this thread. Please throw your questions my way.

(And hey, if you know an angel investor who might like to donate some seed money to this project, I’d love to talk to them too. Or leave us a house? 🙂 I direct a 501(c)3 non-profit that is supporting the non-profit piece of this project (we may end up with a for-profit wing, for sales of locally-made artisan work, workshops, and possibly the political elements, if it’s a problem to do those under the non-profit aegis), and I would be very happy to talk to potential larger donors about their tax-deductible contributions. (Don’t forget those company matching funds!) At some point this summer, we’ll probably be running a Kickstarter for the project, at which point we’ll be offering memberships and other ways to make smaller financial contributions.)

Thanks!

My non-profit that gives grants to writers and free writing education; we’ve recently expanded it to arts generally, beyond writing, so all kinds of ‘making’ fall in there: http://www.speculativeliterature.org

The Makerspace website from last year: http://marammakerspace.com

Do I Have Anyone on Here Who Has Worked With a Community Tool Library?

As my time on the library board is wrapping up, and as it’s clear that it’s not going to be practical for our library to add a tool library anytime soon (esp. given pandemic pushing spaace planning some time forward), I’m still seriously thinking about how we could possibly at least start something in the community through Maram Makerspace, that perhaps the library could take over at some point down the line.

If we were going to store and let people check out kitchen stuff (pans, molds, etc.), or board games, or crafting tools — what do I need to think about? There’ll be some breakage and wear, obviously. We’ll need space for storage (lots of bins?). Some kind of inventory and checkout system. What else should be simmering on the back burner of my brain?

Maram Magazine

I think we’ve settled on Maram Magazine as the name for the ‘making’ magazine I’m hoping to start. It will be a joint venture of Serendib Press and the Speculative Literature Foundation, which has recently redefined its mission somewhat, to a literature AND arts focus. (That gives us more leeway to do all kinds of things.)

Organizationally, I’m thinking of it as:

• SLF –> Portolan Project –> Maram Makerspace –> Maram Magazine

• Serendib House –> Serendib Press –> Maram Magazine

It may take us a while to go to full on ‘magazine,’ and whenever we start taking in money, we’ll need to sort out which parts of the project are non-profit and which are for-profit. But I realized last week that we can get started pretty quick, with a website and blogging. I’m envisioning something like columns for:

– writing
– cooking
– gardening
– textiles
– tech fun

– etc.

And then 3-5 bloggers in each category, to start. Unpaid, but you’re welcome to copy over pieces you’re blogging on your own site or elsewhere, and you get to promote your own stuff (in your bio). If you’re interested in blogging for this, and can commit to at least one post / week, comment below? I’ll ask to see a writing sample (a blog post is fine, doesn’t need to be published), so be prepared to e-mail that to me. I’d like a mix of local-to-me and based-elsewhere folks. International would be very cool.

ALSO, if you’re interested in helping with behind-the-scenes project organization (dreams of being a magazine editor?), no pay now, but quite possibly down the line, let me know that too. (Can be simultaneous with blogging for it, or not.) For that, you’d need to be willing to join the organizers on Slack (it’s easy to use).

We’ll also likely be teaching classes along with this (virtual for now, but in-person as well, eventually). In-person would be near me, if we manage to actually open Maram Makerspace. We were ABOUT to put down money last March on a space, with the plan to start holding classes by June, but then, well.

Coming Along, Bit-by-bit

Recorded a great episode of the podcast with Benjamin Rosenbaum this morning, think we’re really getting into some nitty-gritty stuff that will be hopefully useful and of interest to writers. . Hoping to start releasing those soon, at least teasers.

I think my framing of all this has also finally crystallized. When I started the summer, there was sort of a murky sea of work and projects and I didn’t really know what was where. Sometimes you only learn by doing, you know? And it’s become clear that the podcast with Ben is really very distinct from the podcast with Kel Bachus, so okay, here we go, I’m apparently planning to launch two (2!) podcasts this fall.

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This is what I’m envisioning right now for organizational structure for two podcasts, a magazine, and a teaching org:

• The SLF (non-profit supporting speculative arts and literature) –> Portolan Project (free creative writing and lit education) –> “Mohanraj and Rosenbaum are Humans”: (podcast about SF/F writing, arts, culture and community)

• The SLF –> Maram Makerspace (local community makerspace that may someday be a physical entity, but is already offering classes, both in-person and virtual) –> “Show with Kel” (which needs a title, we should work on that, where we talk about making, crafting, creating businesses, gendered modes of production, trans concerns, and art)

• Serendib (my own brand, I guess, though it sounds goofy to say that) –> co-sponsors “Show with Kel”

• Serendib –> Maram Magazine, also co-sponsored by the SLF as part of Maram Makerspace (Rosa María Quiñones, Erica Jenks Henry, Alli Bax, Julie Chyna, Nivedita G Ramgopal, fyi — and please get on the Slack today, if you can, if you haven’t already — hoping to start the brainstorming conversation there tomorrow, defining the shape of this magazine. Kel Bachus, I’d love to have you join us on this, if you’re willing. Low time-commitment, I promise!)

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It’s all quite complicated, in part because some of my staff are getting paid part-time, and so we need to think carefully about what organization has ‘ownership’ of various projects, and especially where it’s appropriate to have them paid out of the nonprofit SLF account versus my personal small business account.

One of my big goals for this year is to get all the accounting into tip-top shape, transitioning from it being a host of scattered notes in my office to having an actual bookkeeper tracking it all month-to-month and an accountant to make sure I do all the tax stuff correctly. (I have a bookkeeper now, need a preferably local accountant at some point, if people have recommendations.)

It’s a lot! And much of it is still in really inchoate early stages. But it’s coming along, bit-by-bit, and I’m trying not to be overwhelmed by the size and scope of the dreaming. Still kind of think I could use a small business partner of some kind, someone with some real concrete business background, ability to draw up business plans, etc. But Kel promised to hook me up with an incubator group for advice; maybe that will be enough.

Fun with Lighting Kit

This was fun — I ordered a lighting kit a while back because I had started getting really frustrated by how hard it was to light food photos well sometimes. I mean, some days I can go outside for natural light, or to a window, but sometimes it’s night when I’m cooking, etc. and so on.

I’m reading a book on lighting food photos, and he suggests that even using white card stock can help to bounce light helpfully, but I thought umbrella lights would likely work much better than me trying to balance pieces of card stock. So I ordered this kit months ago, and finally set it up today, and used it to take photos of mask fabrics. Helpful!

My tentative plan is that if we manage to get the makerspace up and running, that I’ll loan this out through there, so that members can borrow a light kit to take home, or anyone can walk in (on our free walk-in days) to use it on-site. I also have neon green fabric, and am planning to get a bar to go across the top of the stands, so we’ll have a green screen for Zoom calls or making videos or whatever.

It’s honestly a little hard to imagine the makerspace being open and ready for use anytime soon, but maybe with restrictions being lifted, it’s not unreasonable to think that we might be able to find some way of using the space without congregating.

Maybe a limited set of members who clock in and out individually, using it as a workspace away from kids, wiping down everything they use? I’m not sure when that will be feasible, but surely someday. Can’t hurt to start planning for it now, I think.

Tiffani Smith of Sanofka Arts

This was an artist I met in Columbus, Tiffani Smith of Sankofa Arts, who rents space for her studio in Scott Woods‘s shared art space, the Streetlight Guild. She kindly gave me permission to take some inspiration photos (for Maram Makerspace, perhaps, one day).

I love it when artists can come and work together; we were having a writing conference, and she was hammering away in her studio upstairs. Love it (and love that dinnerware and those pens!). The pieces on the wall are tremendously moving.

Please note bitter-sharp pricing on liquor!

#marammakerspace

Game design, week 4

Game design week 4 — we’re finishing up our role-playing game unit. This week, we showed the students how one kid’s rough pencil sketch could be transformed (by his big sister), into a nice clean illustration. We also looked at classic dungeon map design, using graph paper and a dry-erase mat to experiment with some options.

The kids should have all come home with a pad of graph paper this week, along with a few instruction sheets from Hero Kids, talking through different elements of their dungeons, such as branching paths, traps, and secrets.

The kids spent half the class developing their own maps further, adding exciting illustrations, creative ideas (pit of bees!), or color. Then we did some very rapid-fire game playing, adding a few little mini monster figures for some extra fun. Although again, you don’t really need any of that — your imagination and a die is all you need to play a role-playing game.

We didn’t get through quite all the maps, so we’ll finish those up next week, and then we’re going to try designing some Pokemon characters!

Nice little Maram workshops yesterday

Nice little Maram workshops + writing coaching yesterday, and Oak Park Works was a great spot for them. Warm, clean, brightly-lit and welcoming — locals, if you’re looking for co-working space, or event-hosting space, definitely check them out! I ran a little publishing workshop, helping writers understand the current indie/trad publishing scene, what their options were, and what would be involved with various approaches. We talked for two solid hours, and I think it went pretty well and was helpful to them.

Then I did some writing coaching, meeting with someone who is thinking about an MFA, looking over her submission story for some developmental edits, but mostly just talking through where she is in her writing right now, and what good next steps would be for her. It went really well, I think.

I don’t want to set up a full-time writing coach business or anything like that, but at least in the future, when doing writing workshops, I’ll try to append this kind of thing when possible. It’s satisfying — feels like my 25+ years in this field are actually offering useful perspectives. 

I’ll be back at Oak Park Works this evening at 6 p.m. with a free How to Write a Cookbook Workshop. Register at the link below if you’d like to join us! (And if you need to come in a bit late, that’s fine — I know 6 can be tricky with people’s commutes.) I’ll have copies of Feast with me, if anyone wants to pick up an early Kickstarter edition of the cookbook. If you can’t make tonight, there’s another one there, Sat. the 26th @ noon.

#marammakerspace
#blog
#serendib

Central themes for Maram

Thinking about how we’re describing our central themes for Maram right now — I’ve been using futurist, heritage / culture, and sustainability. But in a lot of ways, I really think it all falls under tech, just not in ways people are used to thinking about tech. ‘Tech’ as ‘application of complex, structured skills’?

Tech (futurist): 3D printing, wearable electronics

Tech (heritage): sashiko embroidery, stranded knitting, sourdough bread-making, beer-making, ethnic heritage cuisines

Tech (sustainable): worm composting, decorative mending

And I really want to keep interrogating that, especially given the gender divisions that people keep wanting to reinforce, where some types of tech get coded male, and some get coded female.

I swear, sometimes I want to start a men’s textile arts group, just to start pushing back against this. Maybe I can hold a free ‘learn to crochet class’ for men in our community. Or ‘learn to sew on a damned button.’

Would anyone come? Model this kind of knowledge and skill for your sons, dads! Let your daughters see you with a needle in that big, manly hand.