Photo: “One of the first projects I made was a baking pan that was shaped like a brick and then I baked a cake wall,” says Agnes Niewiadomski, on her first experience with Kwartzlab.

Connotations come with titles: artist, engineer, painter, developer.

Transcending all those is the simple title of maker – applied to those who create things for their form, function, or to simply explore.

“I feel that maker is more encompassing and, if you tell someone that you’re a maker, that it implies you’re working with your hands,” says Agnes Niewiadomski, a member and former artist-in-residence at Kwartzlab, a makerspace in Kitchener.

Niewiadomski knows her way around a laser cutter as well as she does a sewing machine, which is how she spent much of the past few weeks leading up to a fundraiser Tuesday night at downtown Kitchener’s THEMUSEUM.

A 3D “M” glowed as David Marskell, CEO of THEMUSEUM, recognized Joan Euler for her many contributions to his organization and many others.

Called the Joan Euler Order of the Creative Mind Award, the sculpture is a wooden box in the shape of an M, filled with mosaic details and finished with LED lights that flicker to mimic a beating heart.

The piece was commissioned by THEMUSEUM to three makers from Kwartzlab.

It was a combined effort for Niewiadomski, Meg Leslie and Bernie Rohde, who took turns building on each other’s contribution.

Member-driven Kwartzlab, founded in 2009, is leaving its mark on the community and downtown Kitchener, with a presence at downtown events and initiatives.

In its current home at 33 Kent St., it occupies two floors, with tools you won’t see in anyone’s garage.

“[We have] a laser cutter and we have a 3D printer, big metal brake, band saws and drill presses, all these big heavy machines that normally people don’t have access to,” says Niewiadomski.

But a makerspace isn’t defined by its four walls or the equipment that fills it.

“A makerspace is a group of people, first and foremost,” she says, adding, “It’s not really a building, it’s the community and it’s really about people who are like-minded coming together and creating an environment for them to produce things and converse with each other.”

What started as a kind of support group for those who like to create with their hands, on the third floor of the Math and Computer Building at the University of Waterloo, has evolved into a thriving entity full of creative energy.

“There was an established hackerspace in Toronto,” says Darin White, a former founding director of Kwartzlab. Deterred by the two-hour drive, he thought Kitchener-Waterloo needed its own makerspace.

“Hackerspace was really born in Germany; the Chaos Computer Club really started the idea, but it’s a much older idea than that when you think of woodworking clubs,” White says. “But makerspace is a lot broader, cross-disciplinary.”

After attending these first few meetings starting in April of 2009, White explains, there was a shift in gears and a vision for the future started to form.

“We wanted to build a community first and then the space to serve it,” White says, rather than the other way around.

In Kwartzlab’s early days, makers were nomadic, finding their way to workshops wherever space could be found.

“I ran a learn-to-solder workshop in my garage, so we rented some tables and I begged, borrowed and stole some soldering irons from my friends,” White recalls.

Similar to a startup, the early members gauged market interest and specific knowledge about needs and wants, then made steps to incorporate as a not-for-profit company, with a board of directors.

They realized that to keep people coming to events, Kwartzlab would need a permanent home, where the Wi-Fi was consistent and tools could be used and stored.

In October 2009, Kwartzlab opened its doors at the old Boehmer Box Factory on Duke Street in downtown Kitchener. Rent had to be cheap since it relied on members, who paid $50 each per month, for all its support.

“A year later we got into the adjacent space and we just cut a hole in the wall,” White says.

To draw in the larger community, Kwartzlab opened its doors to the public and encouraged people to test-drive the space.

“It’s kind of a makerspace tradition that you just pick Tuesday night as open night,” White says. “It’s a great thing that has happened every Tuesday night since Kwartzlab opened,” he adds, through “rain, snow, earthquakes, and whatever.”

On any given Tuesday, you’ll find members from varied backgrounds.

“We have people who are interested in robots and software designing; we’ve got people who like to build airplanes; artists too; people who work with fibre and make costumes,” Niewiadomski says.

This was evident as Niewiadomski gave a tour of the lab on Tuesday night, showing off a variety of different media.

Kwartzlab also has an artist-in-residence program, which gives the artist the opportunity to hold a talk and workshop.

A makerspace is to hardware what a hackathon is to software; it turns the hours spent alone at a workbench into a completed work.

“I think there is strength in a community, and being able to share with people, because there is a back-and-forth conversation that happens,” Niewiadomski says.

White attributes the staying power of Kwartzlab to the collective commitment of James Bastow, Ben Brown, Gus Gissing, Eric Gerlach, Cedric Puddy, Steph Smith “and a number of others who made substantial personal sacrifices to make it go.”

Since Kwartzlab is already bursting at the seams at its new location, and as hardware meetups like this month’s Internet of Things gathering draw large crowds, it is clear that this town needs more space to tinker.

“When we started Kwartzlab, people asked, ‘What happens if someone sets up another hackerspace?’,” White says. “That’s ideal. We want more space for making and these things are complementary. Can you imagine having five makerspaces locally?”