The Foundry, a new makerspace, opens in the Fine Arts Library

Lisette Oler

Students and professors peer down to get a closer look at the miniature 3-D-printed version of the Tower being made. Around the corner, a woman is trying virtual reality games and sewing machines are whirring. This is The Foundry, the newest makerspace on campus. 

The Foundry, which opened on Wednesday, was redesigned from its original layout of desks, periodicals and art to accommodate students who like to create. The makerspace ­— located on the third floor of the Fine Arts Library — is complete with 3-D printers, a professional grade recording studio, computer stations for creating video games and industrial sewing machines. 

Bruce Pennycook, director of the Center for Arts and Entertainment Technology, said he believes this type of hands-on approach is the future of libraries.

“This is what libraries are now,” Pennycook said. “Most materials today are digital — we [have been] dealing with bits and not atoms. Now we’re back to atoms. After all the digital everything, people really want to get their hands on stuff and make things. And that’s really the concept of makerspaces.”

The Center for Arts and Entertainment Technology, in coordination with the University Library system and the College of Fine Arts, worked to bring this project to fruition. There are similar makerspaces already on campus in the engineering and architecture schools. While The Foundry is catered to arts and entertainment technology students, this space is the first available to all students with a valid UT ID, regardless of their major. 

“This was not built solely for AET students, but for the whole community,” Pennycook said. “There is another makerspace in engineering being constructed, but it will be only for engineers. This one is truly public.”

Students who attended the grand opening varied from psychology to radio-television-film majors, and many of them were excited to use the available technologies.

“It seems like a really creative environment,” radio-television-film senior Shelby Merritt said. “I think it’s going to be really beneficial to people who want to explore technology, people who are wanting to explore art or combine the two. Even people who just want to make a video game.”

Julian Medrano, an arts and entertainment technologies junior, transferred from the computer science department because he was looking for more freedom in programming.

“This is a new [place] I can go and be creative and still incorporate the skills I’ve learned in programming,” Medrano said. “I personally feel like it’s a place I can get some friends and collaborate.”

Pennycook started thinking about makerspaces in the summer of 2012 when he visited The Duderstadt Center at the University of Michigan. Three years later, the collaboration was officially signed. The project cost about $750,000 to complete and was funded through a variety of sources, including a grant from the Hearst Foundations, UT Libraries and a crowdsourcing project by the College of Fine Arts.

Despite the logistical questions, David Hunter, interim head of the Fine Arts Library, said the space will be a place where students can explore their curiosity.

“We make it possible for the students to find out where their curiosity will lead them,” Hunter said. “We don’t know yet what people will come up with, and that’s part of the joy of this.”