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Sebastopol’s Chimera maker group settles into new permanent space

Kyle Thompson spot welds a caster for a wheel chair attachment at the new Chimera Art Space in Sebastopol, Wednesday April 20, 2016. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat ) 2016

MARY CALLAHAN,

A growing community of creative builders who produce work on every scale, in all materials, both high-tech and low, is settling into a new shared workshop in Sebastopol that they hope will inspire additional interest and, thus, exposure to new skills.

Though already nearly four years old, the 65-plus-member Chimera maker group has only this month moved into a permanent home that will permit the full range of activities its members plan to undertake — from welding and woodwork to robotics, jewelry making and glass blowing to mobile app design.

“We just want to service a whole cross-section of interests,” said longtime member Dave Harris, a former contractor who hopes to spend more time building furniture in the future.

The Chimera Maker Space is at once part tool library, clubhouse, innovation incubator, lab, training center and co-working site. It grew out of a shared desire for space to pursue work and hobbies as well as a desire to learn and collaborate across skill platforms — what Harris calls “cross-pollinating.”

Founder and Executive Director Dana Woodman, 30, a software developer and sometime painter, said he had in mind sharing a shop with a couple of friends when he first floated his idea for a community work space four years ago.

But as soon as he posted his proposal online, the depth of interest was clear.

“Within a week, we had 800 people on our Facebook group,” he said. “I could tell this was pretty much a universal need in the area.”

Sonoma County’s sizable and diverse arts community is one reason. The region has proven fertile ground for the burgeoning do-it-yourself maker movement among its inventors, hackers, tinkerers and craftspeople.

Sebastopol is also the birthplace of Maker Media, publisher of Make Magazine and producer of Maker Faire, and helped give shape to a growing interest in DIY design and fabrication on all sorts of levels.

The group has since incorporated as a nonprofit with a volunteer staff and operates with paid memberships, based on how many days a month a given person might utilize the shop.

Initial hopes of setting up in rented space in the rear of an old Ford garage on Sebastopol Avenue, at the edge of downtown, came up against permitting and license issues that delayed the move for three years. The group operated, in the meantime, on a smaller scale in a modular building at the rear of the property.

But it still managed to host 185 meet-ups and events, in addition to popular robot fights that drew several hundred spectators each time, Woodman said. All told, he figures thousands of people have come through since its founding.

The new Chimera Maker Space was built over the past two years by its members in the shell of the vacated Ford building, largely using recycled or second-hand materials.

It is hosting a free public grand opening celebration Saturday night.

The workshop includes 3,000 square feet of interior space filled with tools, work tables, an electrical shop, metal shop and full jewelry-making studio. A 4,000-square-foot area outdoors offers space for noisy, large-scale metal fabrication, woodwork, storage and the like. Some of the larger machinery isn’t yet set up.

The group has acquired through donations and individual purchases a broad range of instruments and equipment, including a sandblaster, laser cutter, a computer-controlled milling machine and a 3D printer, and offers trainings and classes designed to ensure safety but also share knowledge and experience that might benefit others.

Far more than the mere physical space in which to work, Chimera offers community — open source sharing, mentorships, diverse interests and expertise, as well as friendship, representatives said.

Its members include hobbyists, professionals and those just eager to learn how to make stuff.

“That’s the beauty of a maker space,” said Deborah “Sugar” Chuck, a silversmith and staff volunteer. “There are so many types of creators that there is a lot of collaboration that happens, or new ways of thinking, and you go ahead and you learn something completely new and different.”

The group’s demographics “are literally all over the place,” Woodman said. “We have a lot of retirees, like engineers. We have physicists. We have a mentor network of older people who are professionals. We don’t really offer kids membership, per se, but we let parents join and bring their kids down.”

Non-members can stop in for a look-see any time between noon and 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, but are specifically invited to Saturday’s grand opening from 6-10 p.m., at 6791 Sebastopol Ave., Suite 180, across from The Barlow. The event features food and drink, live music, an auction and raffle.

A VIP pig roast fundraiser is scheduled from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Tickets are $50 in advance and $60 at the door.

Members have key cards that permit access to the space between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m., seven days a week.

Fees are $25 for 2 days a month; $65 for eight days a month and $125 for unlimited use. Additional days can be purchased in a given month for $10 each.

More information is available at chimeraarts.org.