Makers’ Spaces Are Victory Gardens In the War Against COVID

DATE:  March 26, 2020     CATEGORIES:  Blog, Community, COVID-19

A volunteer at Artisan’s Asylum assembles a face shield designed at the University of Wisconsin, modified by Asylum members, with parts produced at Black Cat Labs and on site.

A little over one hundred years ago Europe and North America were engulfed in the turbulence and the terror of World War 1. Many homes experienced the loss of young men; enforced rationing weighed heavily on household diets. Something needed to be done that would bolster morale and indirectly support the war effort.

Enter the victory garden: a small plot of land that homeowners could easily dedicate to the cultivation of fruits and vegetables. Victory gardens signaled social solidarity and supplemented family diets. What started as an effort by the Canadian government in 1917 burgeoned into a social movement in the United States that carried the country through World War II. Victory gardens have become synonymous with unity of civic purpose, pragmatic action, and the kind of “we’re all in this together” attitude that pulls a nation through adversity. 

Sound familiar? There is inspiration here for makers. Nations around the world are rightfully swept up in massive efforts to combat the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and to mitigate its impact. Citizens in vast numbers are asking, “What can I do?” And many are taking practical action by “making.”

With a surge in the number of infected and distressed patients rising exponentially, medical staff are finding that protective gear is in short supply. Facing dwindling stocks of face masks, hospital gowns, hair nets – even life-saving equipment like ventilators – hospitals across the country are turning to the public for help. And the response is overwhelming.

In a matter of weeks, the Internet has exploded with one of the single greatest acts of collective problem-solving most of us have ever seen. Google Trends shows that searches for terms like “COVID-19” and “3D Printed Masks” have surged; the number of resources for “do it yourself”protective equipment has soared. Across social media platforms like Slack, GitLab, and Facebook the proliferation of groups contributing to solutions is unprecedented.

The country is designing, prototyping, iterating and producing goods in a way that is the stuff of science fiction. In our “victory gardens of tech,” fleets of 3D printers are mass producing customized and open source parts shared on sites like Thingiverse. Lines of laser cutters are bringing down the production time of hand-cut processes. And table-top sewing machines are whirring overtime to make masks for America.

We’ve mobilized for a war that we didn’t know we’d have to fight. The front lines are University labs, community maker spaces, private businesses and kitchen tables. Yes, Elon Musk, Ford, and others too. And we’re going to win this one because of the ingenuity, entrepreneurship and “we’re all in this together” spirit of America’s makers. Thank you.