Creatives in Westminster and beyond have been empowered to design and innovate their artistic visions for the past year at Exploration Commons in the bottom floor of the public library at 50 E. Main St.
The space, which celebrates its first anniversary this month, provides free access to cutting-edge technology as an extension of the Carroll County Public Library system.
Exploration Commons at 50 East, a 14,000-square-foot interactive community space, had been planned for several years, but its construction was delayed, in part, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Creatingthe space was part of a $4.9 million renovation at the Westminster branch library. Funding came from the Institute for Museum and Library Services and the Maryland State Capital Grants for Libraries program, as well as $600,000 from county government.
A groundbreaking occurred in June 2019, and a ribbon-cutting celebration to open the space happened on Dec. 17, 2021. It opened to the public the next day.
Exploration Commons has a teaching kitchen, meeting rooms and a makerspace filled with 3D printers, a laser cutter, sewing machines, resin printers, podcasting equipment, virtual reality equipment and more. The space is open to anyone 8 years old or older.
Manager Candace Birger said the space will be celebrated Saturday morning, with a maker expo featuring items made in the makerspace.
The maker expo will be similar to a craft fair, with presenters at tables and attendees free to ask questions, admire craftsmanship, purchase items and explore the Creative Commons. More than 20 presenters are set to display their creations from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday.
“You get to actually talk to the customers who have been here, worked here, found success, learned something new, and maybe even started a business,” Birger said.
Westminster resident Michael Polen, 32, used the makerspace to help decorate the venue where he hosted his wedding this summer. The McDaniel College chemistry professor made laser-engraved wooden keychains as mementos for attendees of his late July wedding at Shenandoah National Park. He also engraved the paper cover of a letter he gave to his wife on the day of their wedding. Polen’s wife also used the makerspace to create decorative signs, stickers and ornaments for the occasion.
“We made it very kind of rustic and homemade,” Polen said.
Some machines require training, including the laser engraver, but Polen said the training was easy and painless. He has been laser engraving since the spring as a result of classes at Exploration Commons, and recently made ornaments to give to family members.
Polen said he loves taking on projects that require him to learn new technologies.
“It’s the most unique thing that I’ve experienced,” Polen said. “You would struggle to find a lot of these types of equipment at an institution.”
Robin Lunger, 67, is a lifelong seamstress who volunteers to teach sewing classes to children and adults once a week at the makerspace. The retired nurse lives in Washington, Pennsylvania, but has family in Westminster and said she appreciates the excuse to use the facility.
“I am there strictly for my own personal pleasure and growth,” Lunger said.
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Lunger has used textile software and high-end Bernina sewing machines at Exploration Commons, created a rendering of herself using the 3D scanner and has made wooden nightlights, wax canvas bags and leather items using the laser cutter. She is responsible for the cardboard holiday tree on display inside the Exploration Commons building.
“It’s just been it’s been a lifelong passion for me, making things, understanding how things are made,” Lunger said.
The makerspace is especially popular with teenagers and retirees, Birger said, and some classes are tailored to older adults. Retirees love the opportunity to learn skills they never had a chance to learn when they were younger, she added.
Birger, 35, said she uses the makerspace to feed her own passion for costume design.
The Exploration Commons manager added that many users sell their creations, and the maker expo could be a chance to buy things such as ornaments and festive confections for holiday gifts.
“We are like a library of technologies and education and software,” Birger said. “We don’t really have books down here. I would say it’s the modern version of a library. I think more and more libraries will continue to pick up makerspaces and teaching kitchens going forward because to operate in modern society. You have to have access to that type of software, machinery and technology, and the education to really go far, so I think it’s the way of the future, really.”