Creative Community Grows in Downtown


Ideaworks in Downtown Fresno brings creative locals together to collobrate on physical projects

 By Ryan Brisco

Special to The Collegian

Ideaworks is a collaborative workshop space located in Downtown Fresno where locals gather to share ideas, collaborate and teach each other skills such as woodworking and applicational programming.

Byron Russell is a film and animation professor at Fresno City College who spends most of his free time at Fresno Ideaworks working on any number of physical projects with other people from around the Central Valley who are interested in creating similar projects.

“We refer to ourselves as a ‘hackerspace,’” said Gary Johnson, one of the Ideaworks founders. “But often people think we’re trying to break into their computers, so we have to explain that the term just means we’re a group with common interests focused on collaboration.”

With a $40 monthly fee ($25 for students) and a certification class, members gain access to all the workshop resources, which include welding machines, a 3D printer, a computer lab, a woodshop space and a “community junk heap” for parts and inspiration.

When finished, Russell’s art piece the “Heptagon” will be a tower of light standing almost 8 feet tall and completely controlled by a random assortment of old buttons, knobs, switches and joysticks.

The goal of the art piece is to encourage viewers to use their imaginations and interact with the structure, but currently it is a wood framework with some diffusion materials and a pile of buttons.

“I remember being a kid in science museums and being fascinated with anything that had buttons for me to interact with,” said Russell. “I wanted to make something that would give people the same feelings I had.”

According to the members, the best thing about Ideaworks is the collaborative community.

The 40 to 50 members pitch project ideas to each other during group gatherings and partner up with others who are interested in seeing the vision come to life or learning a new skill.

“These people are here to create,” said Scott Kramer, another Ideaworks founder. “To learn something not because it’s a step towards a degree or their boss told them to, but because they have a passion for it.”

A perfect example of the passion behind Ideaworks is Russell’s “Heptagon.” He came up with the idea and has recruited several other members to help create it.

“I love working with my hands,” Russell said. “Ideaworks gives me a space to do that and learn things I was never taught in school.”

Johnson said that Russell’s piece was recently accepted into the Maker Faire, “the greatest show-and-tell on earth,” in San Mateo, Calif.

“It’s exciting for us because this is a great way to draw attention to what we’re doing,” Johnson said. “Artists and hobbyists from all over the state will get together to show what they’re making and talk about the process. It’s a time of learning and sharing ideas.”

Russell said he’s excited for the San Mateo, but his goal is to finish the “Heptagon” in time for Fresno’s first Mini Maker Faire at the Fresno Art Museum on Saturday so the Fresno community can see the potential of Ideaworks.

“I can’t guarantee I’ll have it fully completed, but I’ll have something out there,” he said.

The Ideaworks shop is open for members almost every afternoon and evening, but it specifically invites community members and students Downtown every Wednesday night from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. for its “open shop nights.”

“It’s just a chance for people to learn more, meet each other and hang out with no pressure or expectations,” Kramer said. “We’re always trying to get people, especially students, interested in learning new skills, building friendships and making stuff.”