Way back in 2007, I was on the Creative Council for FUEL Milwaukee. We were a relatively new group of “developing leaders” and in order to help us collaborate, YP had us take a trip to Bucketworks for some team building activities. Something clicked during the course of my participation and unbidden, I sent a message to the Executive Director at the time and offered my services to its benefit. Fast forward to May of 2008. I walk out of a “golden handcuffs” job with a fat salary and a very sweet benefits package to become the director of the space. I spend 4 years there. I see it through the floods mentioned below. I carry 60 lbs sheets of drywall. During the worst of the reconstruction, I plummet to 102 lbs because I’m not eating and working 19 hour days. That’s how much I believed in it. I was willing to sacrifice my body to repair Bucketworks’ body.
Being the director of Hacker or Makerspace is a rough job. It isn’t like being an HR Director or regular nonprofit ED, it requires a diverse skill set (fundraising, fixing anything, event planning, marketing, community development, conflict resolution, pretty much the gamut). And balls of steel.
I’ve been massively impressed with Tim Syth as a director of Bucketworks. I still support and will continue to support it and Tim in whatever way I can. Because it means something. Because it has great power. Because I just love the people who use it. So much of who am I now is owed to my experiences there. If you’ve got some cash to spare, I ask that you donate to help keep this alive.
May 31, 2013
A question to Milwaukee:
After being born and raised in rural Wisconsin, and spending nearly 5 years wandering the planet as a photographer and student, I came to Milwaukee about 18 months ago because the city intrigued me. It was gritty, blue-collar and raw. It did not offer the apparition of a polished facade. Its issues were displayed prominently on its sleeve. It felt real.
Perhaps naively, I also came to Milwaukee hoping I could make a difference. Here was a place I could come and actually have a name and face as I tried to leave a positive mark as the director of a project called Bucketworks. I still believe this.
Bucketworks, for those who don’t know, just celebrated its eleventh birthday. Eleven years ago this May it was started by James Carlson and a cadre of accomplices who wanted nothing more than to explore creatively in a way that only art in warehouses can provide. There was little method to the madness, but it was one of the first collaborative spaces in the country, and in Milwaukee of all places. It was a place all about making it happen (whatever “it” was) and giving people a reason to gather and work together. It was the spot in the city for the curious and motivated to gather and create art, businesses, theater, events and products.
Bucketworks has had its issues, much like its home city, but through thick and thin and two floods Bucketworks has managed to persevere, and in that time, Milwaukee has started to blossom. We now have the Milwaukee Makerspace, ArtMKE, the Hudson, VETransfer, Gener8tor, MARN, the Creative Alliance, Open MiKE, just to name a few. As a relatively new transplant, the vibrancy of the creative culture in Milwaukee is a sorely told story—-we are lucky to be in this time and place. But as each of these great efforts filled a niche, and as each of these efforts has been born, Bucketworks has adjusted and pushed ahead because it has always been the job of Bucketworks to be on the edge—-to be that hard-to-explain place “where things start.”
Fast forward 18 months from my arrival in Milwaukee to today and some of that gritty, blue-collar and raw is weighing on me. Those of you I have had the pleasure of meeting know that I have been very open about the situation at Bucketworks. It has its issues and it wears its dirt on its sleeve. Specifically, we have not been been paying rent for 4 months. For the year I have been here prior to those four months, we paid $7000/mo for 6 months and $2500/mo for 6 months before that. We are not paying rent because we spent $2500 on a broken heating system we don’t own, but because we could not afford to fix the system completely, we still paid $2500/mo to heat the space in the winter. We patched a roof we don’t own with the gracious donation of time from a Milwaukee startup that helps veterans develop job skills. We repaired air conditioners. We spent $2000 on a sprinkler system we don’t own to get the building up to code. We replaced toilets that were broken, patched floors, and fixed lights, all while running the organization.
But why not just raise the prices to cover the bills? We don’t raise the prices because we feel it is important for there to be a place in our city where a person can explore projects without breaking the bank. We believe a lack of money should not stop people from trying. Bucketworks is home to 15+ businesses on any given month who pay on average less than $200 a month to operate. If you can get past the Commons, bang for your bucket it is the lowest-cost place in the city to start a business. Bucketworks is a place where teenagers from the city come to make art while learning important things like punctuality and responsibility. Bucketworks is a place where people gather to learn English and to learn about citizenship. Bucketworks is a place where people meet to talk about open data and to teach each other about technology and mysticism and financial planning. Bucketworks is a place to sword fight, practice aerial silks and to dance. Bucketworks is where people voluntarily work together on improving healthcare. Bucketworks is the place where bees are nurtured and celebrated. In short, Bucketworks is a living and breathing demonstration of functional, diverse community in a city that is known for its silos and segregation.
Please note this isn’t a blame game that falls on our landlord or others who are currently interested in the space. I have a good relationship with our landlord—-we agree with a shake of our hands and then do the best we can. We operate like much of Milwaukee operates, and I think this is to be celebrated. Also note that this text represents solely my words and perspectives.
In closing, I want to say that Bucketworks is cleaning out its closets and washing the dirt from its sleeves. I will meet with anyone who is interested and let them know where we stand, what we need to do better and what our plan is to get there. We already have great partnerships that are interested in supporting and bringing stability to this wonderful project, but right now we need time, and in order to get that time, we need money. $18,000 would get us six months of runway on rent, $36,000 would get us twelve, and anything in between would be awesome.
As a recent transplant to this city who has seen Berlin, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Venice, New York, Mexico City, Riga, Paris and many others, I believe Milwaukee is a place to be right now. We have a city that can hide little and is full of people who want to do more. I am committed to making this a place where people have a real option when they want to try an idea. I am willing to do what it takes to bring long term stability to an awesome project in a city that is just rediscovering itself.
So the question I have is this:
Does Milwaukee want Bucketworks?
If it does, please donate what you can. If all you can do is forward this on, please do so. We have an opportunity to show that Milwaukee is a community together. We are not asking for much and we never have asked for much, but I am asking for Bucketworks now. If we reach our goal, the funds will be used for to cover rent. If we do not reach our goal, the funds will be used to find a new home. Our goal is to raise $18,000+ by the end of the business day today—-please help.
Director of Bucketworks