Erin Gatz audibly exhales as she lets us into Prototype PGH, the makerspace she founded with E. Louise Larson over two years ago. Despite the woodcutter, 3D printers, and heavy machinery scattered around the room, there’s a sense of comfort and ease. While drills and lasers just lying around can feel intimidating, at PrototypePGH, it just feels welcoming. “Our goal was to create a space that treats women as experts,” offers Gatz.
Prototype PGHmoved in January this year to occupy a bigger space, and it’s clear they’ve easily grown into it–covering walls with DIY art, fliers and boards of notes from previous workshops. We settle into the corner where Gatz proudly shows Very Local the intersectional feminist zine library compiled by a member.
“We’re growing, but I don’t think there’s a way we’ll lose our ‘Punk, DIY-aesthetic,’” explains Gatz, gesturing around the room. Not only has Prototype PGH had over 1,000 participants in its workshops and engagement in the past year, expanded into a new space within its original location at Blumcraft on Melwood, but it’s also joined forces with the University of Pittsburgh’s Manufacturing Assistance Center in Homewood, giving members access to an even larger library of machines, resources and education.
“Some of our members don’t even know about it yet,” Gatz says. The Pitt MAC partnership means members have access to Prototype PGH’s home base, as well as the massive maker space at 7800 Susquehanna St. Prototype PGH started teaching most of its workshops at Pitt MAC earlier this summer. Workshops are a $10 donation for nonmembers, and residents of Wilkinsburg and Homewood can attend them for free. Prototype PGH lists its workshops on its website.
With its industrial sewing machines, laser cutters and heavy woodworking machines scattered around the space, you could think Prototype PGH was just your run of the mill makerspace with a dash of coworking. However, the team behind it aspires to be much more than just a place to learn to use machines (though they do teach a “Ladies with Lasers” course several times a month).
Prototype PGH is a makerspace and a community
Prototype PGH isn’t just here to teach you how to use a hammer, they’re hoping to create a community of empowered women and small business owners. “There’s something unique going on here,” explains Gatz. “We’re trying to build beyond the fad of makerspaces.”
“Attending a workshop can be life-changing and empowering,” says Gatz. She recalls a recent workshop on tailoring, where she got back on the sewing machine for the first time since she was a teenager. “I ended up taking off the pants I was wearing that day and tailoring them on the spot.”
Prototype PGH also hosts workshops on financial education, entrepreneurship, even fixing your car. They provide childcare during workshops, sliding scale membership costs based on income, and a small business incubator for women-owned companies.
There’s already so much going on, but they hope to add more workshops and skills to the roster, including coding basics and Raspberry Pi classes. Gatz’s also hoping to expand Prototype PGH’s audience beyond just the women for which they started it: “If we’re going to continue promoting our mission, we need to boost other segments of the population.” That means reaching a wider audience for a more diverse group of age ranges, genders, and income levels.
“I want to keep asking, ‘Where can we have the most impact?’”
Prototype PGH Open House
Ready to meet someone new, learn a new skill, or just explore the space? Prototype PGH’s next open house is Saturday, August 10, from 2pm to 4pm in its original location at 460 Melwood Ave.