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A family attends a TekVenture workshop on arduinos, which are micro-computers.

Artistic gets techie in library trailer

In a mobile office trailer on the southern lot of the Allen County Public Library, great things are happening.

Mobile office trailers are not usually where one goes to find great things happening, but this is a unique case. This is the TekVenture Maker Station.

TekVenture is a local incarnation of a burgeoning national subculture called “the maker movement.” The maker movement is little hard to define.

“We joke that our elevator speech goes on so long that most people want to get off before it’s over,” said Jane Applegate, one of TekVenture’s guiding lights.

In terms even a columnist can understand, makers are people who like to make things.

They’re artists seeking the advice of machinists and machinists seeking the counsel of artists.

They’re tinkerers and mad scientists empowered by computers.

TekVenture’s president Greg Jacobs said the Maker Station is a place where the artistic impulse meets and merges with technological acumen.

“You hear about STEM all the time,” he said, referring to the educational coalition devoted to science, technology, engineering and mathematics. “We hear it in our sleep. I think it should be STEAM. I think there should be a place for art in there.”

Some TekVenture makers make useful things and some makers make fun things, but they all seem to make new things.

TekVenture’s Egg-Bot seems useful, fun and new. It is designed to draw complex designs and looping lines of stylish text on spherical objects, not just egg-shaped ones.

“You could print an egg salad recipe on the shell,” said Jeff Krull, the library’s director.

Jacobs pointed out that one of the bot’s display model eggs has an omelet recipe on it, proving that you can’t make an omelet without tattooing a few eggs.

Some people can’t, anyway.

Other TekVenture eggs have intricate maps drawn on them, which may please Amish people who are reluctant to use GPS. There are few things more time-honored yet forward-thinking than a Poultry Positioning System.

TekVenture’s MakerBot 3D Printer can create 3-D plastic models based on almost anything designed in the computer.

The Maker Station also has a computer-assisted router and vacuform mold machine.

Between now and the end of August, TekVenture will offer more than 30 workshops covering subjects as diverse as welding, rocket-building, jewelry-making and machining metal.

Roughly half of the workshops are free and paid for by the library, Jacobs said. Others run $15 to $35, Jacobs said.

With all this activity happening in such tight, stuff-packed quarters, it is no wonder that Jacobs and Applegate are looking for a more permanent home for TekVenture, preferably downtown.

Krull said there’s a possibility that some space would eventually be made available to TekVenture inside the library.

One factor working against that plan, he said, is the unavoidable griminess associated with “making” in the TekVenture sense of the word.

It may clash with other activities happening in the library, he said. But Krull said the library is committed to TekVenture, just as it is committed to expanding and refining its services beyond outmoded notions of what libraries are supposed to do.

More things at the library will be modeled after Access Fort Wayne, the public-access cable station that offers neophytes the chance to learn about television equipment and production, he said.

Krull said the way people used to use libraries had a lot in common with the way they’d shop at supermarkets.

“Now we’re incorporating more aspects of the kitchen,” he said.

For more information about TekVenture, call Greg Jacobs at 432-1095 or visit www.TekVenture.org.

Steve Penhollow is an arts and entertainment writer for The Journal Gazette. His column appears Sundays. He appears Fridays on WPTA-TV, Channel 21, WISE-TV, Channel 33, and WBYR, 98.9 FM to talk about area happenings. Email him at spen@jg.net. A Facebook page for “Rants & Raves” can be accessed at www.facebook.com/pages.

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