Karim Asry and Cesar Garcia Saez, founding members of the brand new association of Spanish labs, were in Toulouse at the Fablab Festival. Encounter.
Toulouse, special envoy
In Spain, an association bringing together fifteen or so labs is building up its structure. Two of its members, Karim Asry, creative director of the Espacio Open in Bilbao and Cesar Garcia Saez, co-founder of Makespace Madrid, crept behind the scenes of the latest Toulouse Fablab Festival early May to observe how the French fablab network (RFFLabs) was being set up. Makery met them to learn more about the Iberian maker ecosystem.
How was the idea of a network of Spanish fablabs born?
Cesar Garcia Saez. Three years ago, all the Spanish fablabs gathered at the Green Fablab of Barcelona, before FAB10, the fablab international conference. It was the first time we were all seated together around the same table. We first tried to understand what was happening in each of the fablabs, then reviewed the situation for the next twelve months. But looking to the future four or five years on was more difficult. This is how we started to think about a network to make the requirements of labs coincide with the help they could mutually bring each other.
Karim Asry. What helped us is that we all knew each other quite well. There was already a good basis of trust to create an association. And the issue of trust is often the most delicate part of any collective work.
What will be the role of your network?
Cesar Garcia Saez. Fablabs are fighting doing their own thing even though they are in permanent contact with one another. Our goal is to convince politicians, companies, universities, that the transfer of knowledge will no longer only occur through traditional institutions but also thanks to these types of organizations.
First, the objective is to reach a public that does not know of our existence. Imagine that in the United-Kingdom, only 1.5% of the population knows what a fablab is. And yet, they have more than 120 active fablabs, hackerspaces and makerspaces. In Spain, we have 25! That says a lot about the leeway to reach this new public…
Our fablabs are seriously understaffed. The majority of places are operating with only one person—the fabmanager who deals with everything. These people work a lot, but their work is not visible. Making fablabs more attractive and communicating are also objectives for the network.
What will this association look like?
Karim Asry. Spain is special and its network will not be limited to “official” fablabs but open to all fabrication spaces, makerspaces, hackerspaces… In short, to all the places that share these values. The other distinctive feature is that the majority of us are the producers of the Spain Maker Faires. It was therefore quite simple to gather fifteen or so members, mostly fabmanagers, and work on a common work basis.
What could hold up the development of your network?
Karim Asry. We tend to represent independent spaces, but in Spain, many fablabs are university fablabs. Yet, Spanish universities are very closed places where everything is extremely vertical. Fablabs are changing this frame of mind. Little by little, universities are starting to open up. The Trojan horse is already inside.
Cesar Garcia Saez. With the other fabmanagers, we are working a lot on the issue of commitment because one of the recurrent problems we are seeing in fablabs is that of continuity. The other great issue common to the whole of Europe is the under-representation of women in engineering sciences and consequently fablabs. It’s a dimension that we want to take into account from the outset by creating this association.
Karim Asry. Everything depends on the mirror effect. If you don’t have enough diversity, you won’t be able to bring people in who are outside the tech loop. I am not only talking about gender, but also about social and ethnical minorities. I am personally worried because there is a true social barrier in the digital culture. If we don’t set things up properly in the beginning, we leave the door wide open to a kind of “digital ninjas” elite that thinks it can rule the world and get rid of all diversity.
What does the Spanish maker ecosystem look like today?
Karim Asry. It’s bizarre if you compare it to the rest of Europe. Initially, there was an important squatting culture in Spain. The first hackerspaces come from there. Of course, most of the squats have been closed since. A huge amount of work energy then got scattered. But it hasn’t disappeared, it was concentrated on new places. Fablabs are only finally the second generation of these spaces under a more institutionalized form.
And now, you have a third generation of places coming from the expansion of the maker culture, a kind of pop-up culture that is growing everywhere. Often, they are no longer places but communities. I am thinking about the community of the Valencia engineering university students that gathers more than 300 very active members. In my opinion, in years to come, the most interesting things will occur in universities with regards to Spain.
And what about the Fablab Barcelona?
Cesar Garcia Saez. For the moment, the Fablab Barcelona is not a member of the association but we are moving forward on this issue with Tomás Diez (founder of Fablab Barcelona, Editor’s note). Here in Toulouse is a good opportunity to see him because he is so busy that even in Spain we never manage to cross paths with him!