Walking into the Canyon Gallery on the north end of the Boulder Main Public Library, visitors will recognize the clean lines and purposeful display of a contemporary art exhibition. But the works featured in Maker Made 2022 aren’t what you might expect from a typical gallery show.
Presented by BLDG 61, the library’s free community workshop connecting people with tools and materials for creative and industrial projects, the exhibition features dozens of works from local makers that walk the line between fine art and high craft. Think less paint and canvas, and more 3D printers, vinyl cutters and sewing machines.
“It’s not hard to find gallery space for fine art practices like painting and sculpting that fall into more traditional processes or media,” said Zack Weaver, creative technologist and co-director of BLDG 61. “So we look for pieces that involve some kind of an industrial tool.”
To find these works, Weaver and his three-person team at BLDG 61 put out a yearly call for submissions on their website, soliciting only pieces that fall outside the categories of traditional painting and sculpture. Many submissions come from creators who work in other local makerspaces like TinkerMill in Longmont and Gizmo Dojo in Broomfield — along with people who create onsite at BLDG 61.
Among this year’s exhibiting makers is Luanna Burke, a blind artist who uses laser cutting technology to expand the possibilities of her drawing and painting practice. Elsewhere, visitors will find native bee nesting houses made from upcycled wine bottles and bamboo by Tracy Bellehumeur and Cynthia Scott; a screen-printed topological map of South Boulder and Eldorado Canyon by Rees Tucker; and Weaver’s own resin 3D-printed Boba Fett helmet, treated with the reverence of an Egyptian urn.
“A lot of these folks don’t see themselves as making pieces that are exhibition pieces in the first place. Many times it’s people who have never exhibited work before,” Weaver said. “It’s pretty cool to walk into a room and see something you made in lights on a pedestal. It’s kind of a game changer for people.”
Return to form
Weaver was researching maker technologies in education as a Ph.D. student at CU Boulder’s ATLAS Institute in 2014 when he met David Farnan, the city’s director of library and arts, who pitched him and BLDG 61’s now co-director Adam Watts on the idea of using the library to provide a free, high-quality makerspace for the community.
Funded by the Boulder Library Foundation, what started as a lone 3D printer in an empty room blossomed into a hands-on community workspace with state-of-the-art tools — all available with your library card. BLDG 61’s first Maker Made exhibition took place in 2017 and picked up steam over the next couple years. But just as the annual showcase was beginning to find its footing, Covid-19 forced the team to hit the brakes.
The 2020 show was installed in the Canyon Gallery on Feb. 28 — just weeks before the pandemic brought life in Boulder and across the country to a screeching halt. “We literally held everyone’s work captive for like the three-to-four months when we weren’t allowed in the building,” Weaver said. “But it looked great from the window.”
Two years later, the return of Maker Made represents more than a slow return to normal. For Weaver, it’s also an opportunity to expand public perception of the value of libraries at a critical moment in Boulder. “As we move toward asking voters to approve a library district, I want people to have a fuller and fresher understanding of what libraries are providing for their community,” he said.
In April, Boulder City Council is expected to decide on whether to form a special tax district to fund the library system, which would operate independently of the city. If approved by the council and Boulder County Commissioners, voters will decide in November on levying a new property tax to fund the district.
With that in mind, Weaver hopes the Maker Made 2022 exhibition will showcase the library as more than just a place to borrow books. “It helps everybody see what libraries are actually doing,” he said. “That’s the most important reason we go through the effort of bringing in people outside of the library community to have this awesome show with us. We just think it’s really worth sharing.”
Maker Made 2022 is on display at the Canyon Gallery inside the Boulder Main Public Library through March 28. Masks are required. For more information, visit BoulderLibrary.org.