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Crafting to End COVID-19
Worcester has long been a city of makers. Hobbyists pursue their passions at home while professionals and budding entrepreneurs teach and work at the Worcester Center for the Crafts, Technocopia, and WorcShop. These “makerspaces” provide Worcster’s creators with access to otherwise inaccessible equipment—like 3D printers and laser cutters—that is needed for a plethora of activities, including woodworking, metalworking, textile manufacturing, and even glass blowing.
However, as the spread of the virus intensified in March 2020, makerspaces—like all other non-essential small businesses—were forced to close their doors in response to new restrictions. Although local innovation took a hit, Worcester’s makers were quick to adapt.
From saving lives to alleviating stress when the world was on pause, crafting played an invaluable part in helping residents and the city cope with the challenges of COVID-19.
For this exhibit we collaborated with Lauren Monroe, one of Technocopia’s executive directors, to tell the story of makerspaces during the pandemic.
From Makerspace to Emergency Manufacturer
On March 23, 2020—less than two weeks after declaring a state of emergency—Governor Baker announced that all non-essential businesses were to cease in-person operations by noon the next day. Luckily for local makerspaces, there was a new niche of providing “COVID-19 essential services.”
Masks, face shields, gloves, and other forms of personal protective equipment (PPE) were in high demand—and hard to find. With production happening overseas, pandemic-induced supply chain disruptions meant less PPE. Mass shortages and online price markups led to hospitals across the nation, including Worcester’s own UMass Memorial Medical Center, reusing disposable single-use masks. One solution? Local makerspaces and their armies of skilled volunteers.
In April 2020, the Worcester Face Shield Project—comprising the volunteer efforts of Technocopia, the Worcester Center for Crafts, Cotyledon Farms, and Ferromorphics Blacksmithing—stepped up to the plate. Using radial arm saws, heating ovens, 3D printers, and more, the group had produced and donated over 2,000 face shields for frontline workers by April 26, 2020. The City of Worcester even approached Lauren Monroe, one of Technocopia’s executive directors, to ask if the makerspace would reprise its role as emergency manufacturer in the future if needed.
Following the success of the Worcester Face Shield Project, evidenced by the traction it gained on social media, Technocopia had more active members than ever before in the summer of 2020.
However, not every makerspace was able to thrive like Technocopia. Despite offering virtual classes and reopening with safety guidelines, the WorcShop on Stafford Street saw revenues plummet and was forced to move to their new Leicester, MA location in November 2020 sooner than anticipated. As of June 2021, the WorcShop is still struggling to get the new permits they need to get back in business.
Crafting at Home
Beyond makerspaces, stay-at-home orders encouraged individuals to take up new hobbies or return to old crafts to fill their newfound free time.
One such maker inspired by the Worcester Face Shield Project was local WPI student Nate Maldonado from Rutland. Nate—who studies mechanical engineering and loves to spend time outside playing tennis, hiking, and skiing—found attending classes online from his bed to be a less than ideal way to learn remotely. Using his dad’s woodshop, Nate’s crafty solution to virtual lethargy was to build a new desk from leftover cherrywood. Since then, Nate has created a plethora of cutting boards for his family and even an outdoor table. Were it not for the pandemic, Nate may have never discovered his passion for woodworking.
For another local student (and woodworking veteran), crafting was a creative outlet amidst the monotony of quarantine life—and an opportunity to expand his hobby. Dan Divecchia, who has been obsessed with building since he was a small child, was disheartened to learn that his high school woodshop was off limits during the pandemic. Without access to his usual workspace and the equipment that came with it, Dan tailored his craft to what he had available at home: a hammer, a crowbar, a power drill, a few clamps, and a power miter saw that could cut a maximum width of three inches. With these tools and a few pallets from his employer (Home Depot), Dan created a rustic old-fashioned coffee table, which he sold on Facebook Marketplace for a pretty penny—a penny that would buy him a new sander. Five coffee tables and nightstands later, Dan could afford more tools and create more from the comforts of home, making pandemic life just a little more bearable.
A Community of Creators
Although the pandemic may have divided the country and put a pause on innovation, creation, and business, Worcester’s makers have endured. Initiatives like the Worcester Face Shield Project and the emergence of new hobbies served to lift both this community of creators and the community of Worcester amidst shortages of profits, PPE, and personal morale.