Spark Makerspace goes all-volunteer, plans downsizing

Spark Director of Operations Casey Moran puts a coat of primer paint on an interior wall of the cooperative at 86 Golden St. on Dec. 28, 2015. Facing financial difficulties, Spark Makerspace is looking to downsize from its 9,000-square-foot space in the former El 'n' Gee Club, and has switched to an all-volunteer model after losing revenues. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Spark Director of Operations Casey Moran puts a coat of primer paint on an interior wall of the cooperative at 86 Golden St. on Dec. 28, 2015. Facing financial difficulties, Spark Makerspace is looking to downsize from its 9,000-square-foot space in the former El 'n' Gee Club, and has switched to an all-volunteer model after losing revenues. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

New London — Facing financial difficulties, Spark Makerspace is looking to downsize from its 9,000-square-foot space at 86 Golden St. in the former El 'n' Gee Club.

In a letter to members and supporters sent out Monday, Spark Director of Operations Casey Moran cited an unspecified loss of funding as the reason for the move, which is expected to occur in December. As part of the downsizing, Spark had to lay off four people, including Moran, a facilities manager, office manager and community manager, he said, adding that the organization is now being run entirely by volunteers.

He later explained that semiannual payments of $50,000 from the entrepreneur-boosting organization CTNext have dried up in the coming year, while another expected major source of private funding didn't come through and more than $10,000 in outstanding invoices have not been paid.

A meeting last week of 40 Spark members had contemplated possible closure of the cooperative, he said, but Moran's view that "this is not ending" eventually prevailed. Spark is a space where artists, coders, woodworkers, welders and other makers can use shared equipment to work on projects.

"This is a transition," Moran said in an interview.

"We're not closing our doors," added John Curran, president of the Spark Makerspace board, who recently married Moran. "We're not planning to be closed for a single day."

Curran said the Spark board is looking for at least 5,000 square feet of space elsewhere in the city. Plans would be for the Spark wood shop, art space, electronics and welding areas to move to the new space, while its three-dimensional printing operations would be housed at the co-working space at 13 Golden St.

Spark is holding a meeting to explain the situation and plan for its move at 6 p.m. Thursday in the conference room at the Atrium at Harris Place at 165 State St.

Curran acknowledged that the Tiny Town celebration in July held in conjunction with a Yestermorrow program to teach tiny-house building techniques had been $3,000 more costly than expected. But he added that the Yestermorrow receipts for its educational program had essentially made up for the Tiny Town losses.

"It was a wash," he said. "But it took a lot of time."

The 85-member Spark Makerspace plans, however, to continue its association with Yestermorrow, a Vermont build-and-design school that wants to hold educational programs locally in the summer. It also plans to continue hosting classes, educational programming and meetups as well as to continue its partnerships with the Hygienic, MS17 Art Project and other downtown organizations while also reaching out to organizations such as Electric Boat and Connecticut College for sponsorships.

Spark's eventual departure from the space it has called home for more than two years does not mean the building will be empty. One of Spark's founders, Hannah Gant, has been talking up for several weeks her plan to partner with Robert Ramsay, owner of the Montauk House Cafe, to create a Cultivator Kitchen at 86 Golden St., where potential restaurateurs could try out menus and train to open their own businesses.

The Cultivator Kitchen, which Gant said will use two floors of 86 Golden St. in the same footprint now occupied by Spark, had a preview in September and October with weekly meals attended by an average of 100 customers paying $10 each. It also recently received Planning & Zoning Commission approval to obtain a liquor license.

"It will be a showcase pop-up restaurant experience," Gant said in a phone interview.

Gant, who left the Spark board in August but remains as an ex-officio member, said she expected the Cultivator Kitchen to offer an environment similar to Washington Street Coffee House, with Wi-Fi allowing restaurant-goers to sit and work or meet people.

But the Cultivator Kitchen also will offer educational opportunities and practice space for those hoping to break into the restaurant business. One staple of the space, she said, will be grab-and-go food items, which are already being sold there.

"It's our goal to have a kind of restaurant environment," she said. "But I'm not sure that's going to happen every day from the get-go."

Gant downplayed the decision of Spark to find its own space away from the Cultivator Kitchen, saying it is not a split, but a recognition that pairing the two uses in the same space simply wouldn't work in the long run.

"It's really just kind of a different animal," she said.

Spark, she said, wanted to find a space that it could eventually own, and that would never have happened at 86 Golden because of owner Scott Magruder's emotional attachment to the building where he once hosted top rock bands at the El 'n' Gee.

"Everyone feels really positive about this," she said. "It's a really positive future, so I'm excited."

Spark is holding a meeting to explain the situation and plan for its move at 6 p.m. Thursday in the conference room at the Atrium at Harris Place at 165 State St.

l.howard@theday.com

 

 

           

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