European programmes | MAKERXCHANGE

Vulca and makers’ mobility: Interview with Alexandre Rousselet

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For MakersXchange (MAX), a study on the mobility of makers, Makery and UPTEC Porto are conducting a series of in-depth interviews to better understand the needs of makers for a future MAX pilot program. New interview with Alexandre Rousselet from the Vulca European maker community.

Correspondence,

MAX (Makers’ eXchange) project is a pilot policy project, co-funded by the European Union, that aims to define and test policies and actions supporting the mobility and exchanges of experience between the cultural and creative industries, creative hubs, makerspaces, fablabs and formal and non-formal learning and skills development systems in a cross-sectoral way and embed makers’ mobility schemes for skills development and inclusion into mainstream CCIs support programmes, policies and ecosystems across Europe.

Alexandre Rousselet is the co-founder and tireless manager of the Vulca European maker community—an essential voice in our investigation on makers’ mobility in Europe.

Makery : Can you introduce yourself? Have you been working independently or are you involved in cultural/maker organizations?

Alexandre Rousselet : From 2015 until now I’ve visited more than 350 makerspaces, fablabs and hackerspaces in 36 countries across Europe, and I was fortunate to be hosted for a few days by most of them. Now I’m 29 years old. I earned my Bachelor’s degree in international relations in Ireland in 2013. This experience opened my eyes to two things: the world, through my multilingual and multicultural university experience; and the maker/hacker community that I discovered in Ireland, which is expanding across Europe. As a result, some friends from Erasmus and I started the VULCA – European Program whose mission is to inspire and develop mobility and European residencies specifically for this maker/hacker movement, in their dedicated spaces (makerspaces, hackerspaces, fablabs, biohacklabs, open workshops). Through this initiative, we have launched several actions.

First, the Vulca Tour, so that we can identify the communities by going directly to meet them. Here is a rough road map of our encounters with the maker/hacker movement. Many of them are already recognized by the European Commission through the Joint Research Center (thanks to Paulo Rosa and his team) in the report « Overview of the Maker Movement in the European Union ». There are still many more left to discover.

Inside the Vulca van. © Vulca

We also organize Vulca Seminars, where the communities we encountered along the way can meet each other, discuss and share ideas around the issue of makers in residence. After each seminar, this sharing of experiences and joining of networks have facilitated new maker residencies, which we have begun listing and documenting in Vulca Experimenta.

Vulca Experimenta is a way for us (and anyone who wants to participate) to experiment with all the aspects of practically implementing mobility programs in real conditions. Vulca has contributed to experiments such as: France / Serbia relations, where Todor Cvetanovic from Garage Lab (Serbia) did a 5-week residency at FunLab in Tours (France) ; Latin America – Europe relations, where Latin American maker Fernando Daguanno gave workshops in 10 fablabs in Portugal and Spain; other residencies that we accompanied from the beginning; France – Italy relations where French maker Julien Bonnaud from Bocal in Chemillé did a 3-month residency at Verona Fablab; other residencies in Greece, Slovenia and Portugal in this list.

Finally, we can use this “Experimenta”, methodology to foster future makerspaces in integrating maker residencies into their development strategy. You can learn more from the case studies at Casa Branca or Manzat for instance.

At Verona Fablab. © Vulca

How would you describe your activity as a “maker”?

I am a “link maker”. Of course, the maker movement has been making connections long before me, but I feel most comfortable linking people and places. Since we started Vulca, I’ve connected hundreds of people and enabled just as many to meet in person.

Vulca didn’t invent “Makers’ Mobility” or “Makers in Residence”. These programs have already been going strong in Europe for a while! We just brought them to the foreground, and we do our best to help those who wish to have this type of experience. Hosting or sending a maker is always a great experience!

Maker Faire Vienna, Austria. © Vulca
FabLab Kamp-Lintfort, Germany. © Vulca

And how would you define “maker culture”?

“Maker Culture”, which could also be called “Do-It-Yourself culture”, is a movement to share very informal skills, especially through distributed networks. Behind the many definitions of the maker/DIY/tinkerer/etc. movement are concepts of practices that are not directly part of professional fields. Taking into account the multiple definitions of “Maker” and what digital fabrication can accomplish, we could start by defining makers as individuals who create artifacts—mainly in the form of practical hardware and software solutions to real-world problems and challenges. So they alleviate a daily need, if only from the particular point of view of an individual maker, in a practical and ingenious way, with the desire to be relevant.

In conclusion, I can also share this video, which presents our vision of the maker movement. We made it on the road last year.

Have you participated in mobility programs in the past? What were your experiences?

I’ve already participated in two mobility programs. The first was with Erasmus in 2012 for my studies. As a French student, I spent one year in Ireland (Institute of Technology Sligo) for my Bachelor degree. It was the best experience of my life—a one-year immersion in a new country, and my first exposure to the maker/hacker movement. It was important that this program was very accessible. All you needed to qualify was decent academic results and to pass a language test. The university administration took care of the entire application and subsidies. All I had to do was go there and focus on my studies.

Then in 2017, I participated in Youth Exchange. It’s a European sub-program (of the global Erasmus+ program) that enables young people of different countries to meet, live together and work on common projects for a few days. These exchanges take place outside of the academic framework, inviting us to participate in various activities: workshops, exercises, discussions, meeting the locals, etc. As for me, I went to Komotini in Greece.

At the end of the session, we receive a “Youthpass” as a sort of skills validation, certifying that the exchange took place, as well as the learning experiences of the participants. The maker movement is becoming increasingly active in this approach, for example with open-badge (see what our friends are doing at Dôme in Caen). It would be wise to build on their work!

To conclude, Erasmus was more meaningful to me because the experience lasted longer, and the goal was clearly defined from the start. I made long-lasting friends through Erasmus, with whom I’m working professionally today. Youth Exchange was much shorter, with a less tangible result.

Erasmus 2013 – Sligo – Ireland.

Which form(s) of exchange did you prefer when you participated in mobility programs in Europe or abroad: workshop, symposium, training, residency?

Doesn’t matter. Really! We need to keep them all and adapt according to the type of residency! One thing I would like to stress is that within the maker movement, it’s important for matchmaking to be based on projects. Cohesiveness between the resident and the local community will always be stronger if the two parties share a common thread, a common objective to reach together in a complementary way. The more the maker’s invitation is based on a local project, the higher the quality of the residency.

Fablab Roskilde – Denmark. © Vulca

Personally, I prefer total immersion. Escaping and expanding your comfort zone. A new language, culture, ways and customs. New people, a new network. A complementary point of view and a vision of the world that is impossible to find in normal times at our own local level with those around us. Not to mention the diversity of skills that are brought together around a common project.

Another important detail that I want to emphasize: “Go alone, even if it’s hard.” Avoid going in a group. At Erasmus, students tended to stay among people of the same nationality. During my experience of Youth Exchange, the nationalities more readily stayed together in the workshops or at meals. My experience has taught me that the impact is stronger for both parties if you go as an individual rather than in a group.

What are mobility programs currently lacking to better develop maker culture and practices?

The main flaw is that the maker movement doesn’t fit into the well-defined boxes of existing programs.

Consider a few of these programs: Erasmus is for Education, Creative Europe is for Culture, H2020 is oriented toward innovation… Do I need to cite others before it becomes clear that the transdisciplinarity of the maker community is everywhere and nowhere at the same time? Enough said!

Repair Café in collaboration with Squaregolab fablab in Perpignan – France (Association Repair Café Toulouges). © Vulca

In the maker movement, you can learn and do very high-level projects without a fancy degree. In this community, you are not limited by academic qualifications (such as a formal university degree) or age in order to access knowledge. If you are self-taught, and have a panel of projects already realized in your makerspace that you can share and present at the host space, then you can absolutely apply for a residency in the program. If you can show what you know how to do, it’s enough. It’s the heart of the maker movement!

Future programs for makers also need to have a program that is as inclusive as possible, and not simply focus efforts on makers with academic credentials or institutional fablabs or those based in big cities (just to give a few examples).

On the contrary, now is the time to create a very inclusive program in a Europe that must still be built little by little each day, by the citizens who make up this continent. It’s time to build on the existing mesh of networks (Map A, Map B, Map C, Map D, Map E, …).

The maker movement is present throughout Europe and developing in multiple forms (institutional, private, nonprofit, academic, etc). We need to encourage it to expand this way.

The mobility of makers will be a fundamental vector in building Europe, just as Erasmus has been. I would also cite the research work of Paulo Rosa and his team in their 2018 report. Makerspaces are present throughout Europe, first in the capitals, to currently more rural areas.

Geographical localisation of makerspaces in EU28 compared to population density in NUTS 2 regions of EU28.

We still need to be familiar with the maker movement as a whole: who are the actors with the capacity to host and send makers, how to find the right project, how to find the makers who are willing and ready to move, how to get financial and administrative support for such an experience! It’s a battlefield. Nonetheless, some are quite successful, and we support them as much as possible with the Experimenta methodology, so that one day, all those involved will be able to use these elements to draw the right conclusions.

What would be your dream mobility program for makers? Would you prioritize travel, meetings, access to technology or network-building?

Many types of mobility programs already exist in Europe. There is no single turnkey mobility program for this maker movement, but here are a few remarks to define a certain framework.

Expenses for travel, accommodation and daily meals should be covered for every maker in residence. There should also be a budget allocated for accessing the materials and technology necessary to realize the project.

Residencies should be based on projects defined by the host venue: 1) Define a need; 2) Launch a call for makers/hackers; 3) Select the most appropriate candidate(s); 4) Get validation and funding for the dedicated program in order to cover all the costs of this residency.

Habibi.Works – Ioannina – Greece. © Vulca

Based on these same principles, we should also let makers launch a call and go to spaces that are equipped with specific technologies.

We had the example of a Bulgarian maker who wanted to prototype a project that required 3D printing metal. A fablab in Germany and one in France both had 3D metal printers and could make available their machine park + training + community to this maker seeking further development.

I also know that fablabs that are fortunate enough to have several fab managers want to exchange staff members.

Furthermore, the longer the collaboration, the richer it will be and the more it will need to be fostered and supported by the program. For example, if the residency lasts less than 3 months, expenses will be covered. If the residency lasts more than 3 months, then some form of payment will be made to both parties (maker and host site).

The report of the experience should be based on a documented project which would unlock a complementary budget, for example, because their work will contribute to the commons. Open source is a major base for inspiration and documentation in the maker movement! So it’s crucial to support the development of open source projects through this program, so that the whole maker movement can grow from this exchange!

So as you can see from our experience, there are various needs, and no single dream mobility program.

A retired maker in Newport, UK. © Vulca

What does mobility mean during these pandemic times? Should we continue to invest in this field? Given our travel restrictions, how can we continue to develop and strengthen our networks, if we can’t meet in person?

During a world pandemic, residencies that last several months or even a year will make more sense, as we limit regular travel between countries.

Why not include a few days of quarantine for the maker in the host accommodation? He or she could use this time to prepare their missions, their residency program, learn the national language online, get up to date with local news, do administrative paperwork, etc. The quarantine could be reduced after testing for the virus, allowing the resident to fully occupy the workspace.

It will also be necessary to adhere to hygiene regulations. The first and second wave have taught us a lot about good practices.

Mountains Makers, Manzat, France. © Vulca

Why it is important (or not)?

Mobility is essential, especially in an unstable Europe (Brexit, rising extremism, candidate nations blocked, etc.)

Mobility can weave connections between citizens who don’t know each other.

More simply, let’s remember that we’re dealing with 500 million citizens in the European Union and 700 million in Europe. That’s more than 27 countries and a multitude of different languages and cultures on the same continent, which don’t even use the same alphabet. It may be difficult to become united in this context, yet this is precisely the plan for the Old World!

Erasmus is the realization of the European Union that is most appreciated by its citizens! Don’t look any further. The Erasmus generation will always support the construction of Europe! So MakersXchange… we’re counting on your recommendations to highlight the importance of a mobility program for the maker movement in Europe.

© Vulca

More about Vulca.

MakersXchange is a Pilot policy project co-funded by the European Union. MAX project is implemented by the European Creative Hubs Network, Fab Lab Barcelona, UPTEC and Makery.

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