Journal:

Idea Fab Labs - Merging Art & Tech

ARTICLE & PHOTOS BY MADISON EADIE

Idea Fab Labs, located in the industrial Wrigley building, is integrating art and technology by providing the community with a space to create art with fabrication tools, like 3D printers and laser cutters. Holding many different work spaces, members have the option to explore and learn from watching other members at work to expand their artistic horizons. I sat down with co-founder Jordan Layman to learn more.

Please introduce yourself and describe what you do.

My name is Jordan Layman and I am a co-founder of Idea Fab Labs, located in both Chico and Santa Cruz. We started our first facility up in Chico in 2013, and then we started our facility here in 2015. I’m basically in charge of making everything happen- managing the volunteers, fixing the equipment, outreach, etc.

Tell us about the company's core values and what you envisioned creating.

One of the things we do is show the fusion between art and technology. This has been a constant theme. That’s not necessarily the business model, but it’s certainly the vision.

The basic framework is community access to fabrication tools. Tools like laser cutters that are really expensive for you to buy as a user, but we can give you access to it, collectively putting our energy together.

There’s also an education component to it, so we have a framework for classes and workshops. Right now it’s expressed mostly through horizontal peer-to-peer learning, where people learn a lot from being here and talking with other people about what they’re doing, and asking for help when they need it. It’s a community.

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Tell us about the different facilities available.

We have the large format laser cutters, multiple 3D printers, a woodshop, CNC router tools (automated control systems for laser cutters, etc.). We have a jewelry zone, soft metal working; the screen printing zone, an electronics zone, the audio zone, and some textiles equipment as well.

What do you offer in terms of classes?

We do a safety and basic use class that you have to take before you are allowed to use a tool. We offer classes and workshops from time to time, like LED programming classes. We also have two monthly meetups that we host : “LEDs Are Awesome” meetup where you can learn how to install and program LED pixels and the “Robot Wars Meetup” where RC robots battle each other.

How did you feel when you were first starting out?

Well, it definitely started out as a hobby project. We privately funded the whole thing through our own means, so it started out as something we were doing for fun, not really to build a business. Both Erin Banwell, my co-founder, and I are naturally community oriented,and we tend to build communities out of our actions. Together we really doubled our energy. We were bringing our friends in and building a stage for a music festival, doing this art project, or doing installations for children’s museums and things like that, and things grew from there.

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Co-Founder Jordan Layman

Was there ever a time when you doubted your idea/business?

Well certainly not at first because it didn’t matter. If it all fell apart, well, it was an experiment anyway. It’s mostly uncharted territory, there are not a lot of spaces like ours.

Who is on your team?

Pretty much everyone but me is a volunteer - we have a trade-for-membership deal. You can pay the lowest fee, which is $45, and get the highest level of access, which is $120 a month, in exchange for working a four hour shift every week.

What is it about Santa Cruz that helped you decide to open Idea Fab Labs here?

Erin is from here, so he knew the lay of the land and knew there wasn’t anything like this here. We love Santa Cruz and we love the people here. Santa Cruz also gels with the community focused style of our business. The management here in the Wrigley Building is great; the community here is awesome. There is lots of cool stuff happening all the time, and lots of people starting up businesses.

What industry do you consider yourself in?

We have membership access, so we are like a gym in some ways, but inside we’re not anything like that. People come and go, and use the tools offered to them through membership. In terms of industry, it’s education, arts, and technology. I think we settled on technical institute as the most appropriate thing, which lets us be a school.

What relationships do you have that benefit your business the most?

Through having a membership model business, relationships become part of us. We get to meet different businesses and entrepreneurs, which give us a different kind of access to the community. We also have lots of relationships with other businesses located in the Wrigley building, and we’ve made signs for them or done other projects for them. There’s this constant interaction on the business level.

What are the challenges of your business?

There are many. One of the biggest challenges is that there’s a lot of things that I’m not necessarily familiar with that we’ve set out to do. I’m not a skilled woodworker, but I run a wood shop.

We’re also understaffed. I have the volunteer community but I don’t have the money to pay for an employee right now. Keeping track of everything and testing my limits, that’s challenging. But overall, I think I am fortunate because I’m welcomed here through the community itself that we’ve built here. People were very supportive and welcoming to me. We are lucky and can take advantage of the fact that what we’re doing good for the community and that is valuable. It’s nice to be able to stand behind what we’re doing fully.

What do you wish you knew before you started Idea Fab Labs?

I’ve learned so much, I don’t think about it in the context of what do I wish I knew, I think a lot about it in the context of how much I have learned. I’ve had an intense amount of personal growth through creating this business.

What is special to you about Santa Cruz?

The people that I meet and become close with are what is most special to me about Santa Cruz.

Learn more about Idea Fab Labs at Santacruz.ideafablabs.com

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