Maker’s space now under construction latest step in Conner Prairie’s evolution

Conner Prairie program staff tested a temporary maker’s space last year, resulting in plans to build a permanent experience. Makesmith Workshop is now under construction and is set to open Jan. 11.

By Ephraim Rudolph
Now under construction inside Conner Prairie’s Welcome Center is a 500-square-foot experience that will engage people of all ages and skill levels to make, craft and create like never before.

Makesmith Workshop will offer opportunities for visitors to work with textiles, wood, metal, pottery and more. The space will host multiple making themes throughout the year which will change out on a monthly or bimonthly basis.

“The focus will be on one singular craft, tool or making theme at a time,” said Richard Cooper, vice president-chief programs officer at Conner Prairie. “The first theme will be textiles and the second will be related to woodworking. We’re excited to see where those two themes lead us.”

Makesmith Workshop will offer opportunities for visitors to work with textiles, wood, metal, pottery and more.

The spirit of making has been a part of Conner Prairie since the beginning.

“There’s always been making here, from our blacksmithing and pottery classes to our art and arms making workshops and even basket and box making at Treetop Outpost,” Cooper (left) said. “There’s a big push for making in modern society and we’re seeing making workshops pop up in schools, libraries and museums all across the country.”

Makesmith Workshop will connect people with skills and trades that are ostensibly from the past but are just as relevant to people’s lives today.

“The making movement has shown that it’s just as important to know how to sew and do woodworking as it is to program computers. It’s all relevant,” said museum Director of Exhibits Brian Mancuso. “The space is a key component in this evolution of what Conner Prairie has always done.”

Last year, museum programs staff prototyped a temporary maker’s space, which laid the foundation for the creation of this new permanent experience.

“It was a small run-through of all the trades: textiles, blacksmithing, pottery and woodworking,” Mancuso said. “We’re going to revisit all of those in Makesmith Workshop before we start heading down other making pathways. The idea is for Conner Prairie to establish a maker identity.”

One of the principal goals for Makesmith Workshop is to positively influence visitor attitudes about making and handiwork.

Further ideas for the space were developed by Mancuso after attending an Association of Midwest Museums panel discussion about making recently. Panelists talked about a survey they’d done to figure out what making skills people really want to learn. People were asked if they wanted to learn to make those kinds of things.

“But what they found was that people are far more interested in learning basic handiwork skills – building, making and repairing,” he said. “That’s exactly what Conner Prairie has always been able to offer.”

One of the principal goals for Makesmith Workshop is to positively influence visitor attitudes about making and handiwork.

“We have really talented interpreters who embody the maker ethos of ‘I can try that,’” Mancuso (left) said, “and they’re going to be incredible at helping visitors feel comfortable trying new things. We want people to be able to come in and say to the interpreters, ‘I want to learn how to sew a patch on my jeans,’ and then sit down and work together to actually do that.”

The exhibit will evolve and change as Conner Prairie’s interpretation staff adapts to the space and the ways that visitors interact with making.

Ultimately, the new exhibit, made possible by funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, will be an exciting first step for Conner Prairie as it carves out an identity in the making community and culture.

“This is the next big thing for us,” Mancuso said. “When people think of making, we want them to think of us.”