Doubling Creativity: the Fab Lab at Northampton Community College

Jeffrey Boerner, director of the popular Fab Lab in Northampton Community College, is a resolute type. When I asked him about his role at the Fab Lab, I was surprised when he sarcastically responded: “I got trapped.” But as he began to delve into its creation, I believe the program’s conception could be defined as a serendipitous success story. Boerner humbly notes that he was looking for something to do after he sold another business, and “created the lab on a whim” back in 2009, a testament to his entrepreneurial spirit.

Instructor teaching a class. Photo credit: Jeffrey Boerner

Admittedly, almost meekly, I had to ask Boerner what defines a “Fab Lab,” and he patiently responded that it’s simply slang (coined by a professor at MIT) for a fabrication lab, which is a small workshop that offers digital fabrication. All ages and talents are welcome in the Fab Lab to partake in an array of classes and workshops within an “informal space.” The most popular classes are guitar building and woodworking, although according to Boerner, “almost any cross-process” is available. Boerner is quick to note that none of this would be possible without the twenty-six very talented instructors who, combined, teach 160 different classes per year at the Fab Lab. In fact, he went on to say that these teachers are so adept that it makes the Fab Lab in Northampton “by far the best Fab Lab in the country.”

Ambitious Expansion

Building on this success, the Fab Lab has an ambitious expansion in the works. The current 4,000 square foot space is being doubled in a new facility that is set to open as early as mid-May. You can expect to find more processes, such as melding and graphics, and a ton of expansive training. The new Fab Lab will also widen its humanitarian efforts by focusing on Northampton kids, emphasizing that anyone is welcome.

From children to adults, the Fab Lab is home to all those who hold a creative edge; it inspires and promotes entrepreneurial spirit in all its artistic forms. The expansion doubles these efforts, notably as Boerner describes the Luthier lab for guitar building. In this new set-up, artists not only create their own instruments, they can also see those instruments in action with local musicians. I can hear Boerner’s voice light up as he describes the Coffee House, which is the venue where local musicians perform and play the constructed guitars. Boerner tells me that the musicians have to use the guitars made at the Fab Lab and to credit the guitar-maker, while also talking about its construction. It’s easy to see how the Fab Lab incentivizes its artists and the local community, and here artistry comes full circle.

Luthier Lab, artist is building a guitar in woodworking class. Photo credit: Jeffrey Boerner

From guitar building to 3D printing to double expansion, it seems as though the Fab Lab in Northampton has no plans of compromising its bold goals and humble promises to provide local aspiring artists the gift of, and means for, creation.

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