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Prototyping with Pittsburgh’s First Feminist Makerspace

April 7, 2017

By Chris Maggio

E.Louise Larson and Erin Oldynski rented a workspace in December 2016, unsure what exactly to do with it.

“We knew we wanted it to be a place for our ideas and to have some sort of community aspect,” Oldynski said.

Enter The Sprout Fund, a local agency which nurtures nascent community initiatives and projects, and its 100 Days of US campaign.

#weinnovatepgh @camarty @sarahreagle learning to #screenprint at @prototypepgh open house!

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According to the campaign’s website, it was designed “to empower people to act locally during the first 100 days of the new presidential administration to advance positive, solution-oriented responses to issues of national importance.”

The campaign included more than $130,000 divided among 27 community-led, regional projects. The grant opportunity and the looming administration crystallized Larson and Oldynski’s vision. Earlier this year, Prototype, a feminist makerspace, opened in Suite 202 of the Bloomcraft building at 460 Melwood Ave. in North Oakland.

Prototype’s name harks back to the idea of testing and retesting an idea as well as creating an environment where people can make mistakes and try again. People of all genders can drop in to better their skills at 3D printing, soldering, and other trades.

Most importantly, the space supports women in science, technology, engineering, and math. They can attend professional development workshops and explore technology without fear of judgment or reprisal.

Larson and Oldynski organized 20 workshops over 100 days to empower at least 100 women. They received the grant, and so far about 150 people have registered as members. Those members have been invaluable to prototyping the space itself by providing feedback on the kinds of events that they want to see.

Oldynski led a workshop titled How To Pitch a Promotion and Negotiate a Raise. It addressed how women in STEM fields are underrepresented and often underpaid. She advised women to keep track of their successes. “A lot of times, women won’t get promoted unless they bring the case forward,” she said.

Omggg ? we love our new neon sign from @glassmagixneon ?? #Venus #feminist #neon

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Other workshops instruct attendees on how to operate Prototype’s many tools. Hadley Pratt, who works at BoXZY in Homewood, led a class on BoXZY 3D printing and laser engraving. About 17 people attended with the crowd spilling out of the room. She is also a volunteer key holder at Prototype and often attends Open Swim, drop-in studio time.

“It’s an environment that’s really supportive even just on an interpersonal level, making aside,” she said.

Larson and Oldynski rent other rooms in the building, like the Babyland Wood Shop in the basement, for programming. As for what connects the events, Larson said, We took a holistic view of what we can offer in this quick turnaround time that gives people the opportunity to engage with critical thinking skills as well as the engineering design process.” She added all programming empowers through a feminist lens.

Larson and Oldynski are self-taught makers. They work full-time at TechShop, an international company which seeks to expand access to technology through classes and studio time.

Since opening, Prototype has received a deluge of proposals from people wanting to lead workshops, everything from what one needs to do to prepare for a funeral when a loved one dies to Adulting 101: How To Be an Adult. It may be 100 Days of US, but it’s shaping to be 365 days of Prototype.

Workshops are 7 p.m. Thursdays and noon Saturdays. Cost can vary. Open Swim is noon-9 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays and noon-4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Open Swim is free for members and a $5 suggested donation for non-members. Membership is $25 for 6 months and $50 for a year. A complete schedule is available on Prototype’s website. Membership and volunteer sign-up is also online.