Gizmo makerspace tries to make ends meet
Organization faces acute funding, site challengesSeptember 28th, 2023
Gizmo-CdA Inc., the nonprofit makerspace located in Coeur d’Alene, is facing its biggest challenges to date.
The organization, which has an annual budget of $500,000, currently is operating under a deficit, largely due to a loss of anticipated grant funding earlier this year, says Erin Lanigan, Gizmo’s executive director.
“We need an injection of capital to keep going,” Lanigan says. “To continue, we’re going to have to come up with funding we can use in a discretionary way.”
Gizmo’s budget has been 80% reliant on grant funding, with the remainder of revenue coming through individual and business donations, memberships, and classes. Most of the budget is intended to cover its costs for staffing and maintenance and repair of tools and equipment, Lanigan says.
Gizmo occupies much of an 11,000-square-foot space in the Hedlund Building, on the North Idaho College campus. It shares some of that space with programs operated by NIC, the University of Idaho, and Boise State University.
The Journal last reported on Gizmo nearly two years ago, shortly after Lanigan became executive director, replacing Gizmo co-founder Barb Mueller, who retired from that position.
While most makerspaces have narrower areas of specialty in product development and small-scale manufacturing, Gizmo serves a wide range of interests.
For example, Gizmo’s media arts lab has virtual reality and green-screen capabilities and can accommodate podcasts, Claymation productions, and some music recording.
Gizmo’s creative arts lab includes four different types of specialty printers: UV, banner, textile, and heat transfer. The lab accommodates leather working, jewelry making, glass working, sewing, quilting, and felting.
Other spaces at Gizmo include a woodshop, a machine shop, a welding studio, a blacksmithing studio, a pottery studio, a computer lab, and a lapidary.
Gizmo’s high-tech manufacturing equipment includes laser cutters, several types of 3D printers, and a few computer-numeric controlled machines for different applications.
“What makes Gizmo special is the variety,” Lanigan says. “We have a lot of tools here folks wouldn’t have access to otherwise.”
Lanigan learned in July that major grant funding the makerspace had relied on in recent years has dried up. Gizmo subsequently laid off half its staff and is down to three full-time employees.
Also during the summer, Lanigan was informed during a site inspection that, while the space was approved for business uses, it hadn’t received a certificate of occupancy for educational uses—an oversight that preceded her hiring at Gizmo.
For now, programs for students aged 17 and under, including high school robotics teams, have had to be moved offsite.
Gizmo, which collaborates with Idaho STEM Action Center among other educational partners, has worked with more than 500 teachers and curates a lending library with hundreds of items, including tools, supplies, equipment, and instructional media.
So far, the reduced staff has been able to keep most educational programs active with the help of volunteers, but that may be about to change.
“We’ll be scaling back some K-12 programming,” Lanigan says. “Everything else will continue.”
She says there are three ways adults can use Gizmo’s facilities and workspaces: taking classes, working with mentors, and obtaining membership.
Classes are for general instruction on tools and equipment. People who have specific projects in mind can work under the mentorship program.
Those who want to work on their own must first demonstrate knowledge of safety in operations through the mentorship program to be eligible for membership.
The monthly membership fee is based on the hours of use and ranges from $36 for students and $48 for others for up to eight hours to $200 a month for unlimited hours.
Gizmo currently has 80 such members, a number that has been rising recently, but is still below the pre-pandemic level of about 140 members in 2019. Lanigan says Gizmo currently relies on about 20 volunteers to help with its programs, adding, “We can use more help.”
One current member is Janine Wood-Bockman, of Coeur d’Alene, who comes to Gizmo four days a week for personal enrichment.
“I like to make things,” she says, showing off her latest project, a wooden geometric puzzle that she designed. “I have a background in computers. Now, I use my computer-aided design skills to make art.”
Lanigan says some people come to take classes to learn skills that they can put on their resumes.
“Lots of people learn skills here that they can transition to the workplace,” she adds.
Lanigan says she’s looking for ways to make Gizmo more self-reliant.
“The goal is to find a way to become self-sustainable and less reliant on grants,” she says. “We haven’t figured out a way to make that happen.”