Throughout the pandemic, NWA professionals from a variety of careers and backgrounds have found community through sharing their DIY projects in a Facebook group for Arkansas creatives.
The NWA Maker Movement emphasizes a culture of collaborative inquiry and innovation through do-it-yourself projects, according to Finding NWA. Through curiosity and creativity, “makers” set out to explore new processes for invention and ideation.
Bo Dutton, 34, owner of Natural State Custom Furniture, started a Facebook group in mid-January called NWA Makers Club to create a space for makers to showcase their work and connect with each other. He has received several private messages from makers who find his online sense of community encouraging and are thankful to have a way to find advice and resources, he said.
A few weeks ago, Dutton started another Facebook group called NWA Makers Gallery to help makers promote themselves to the public, he said. The page features profiles of different creators and their work.
“The NWA Makers Gallery is the public window into what we are doing,” Dutton said. “It’s a way to promote ourselves to the public and show the public all the incredible things that our makers are making.”
Jake Lewis, 41, an admin for NWA Makers Club, said he was shocked by how quickly the group gained members and is glad to have a space where makers can collaborate and communicate with each other. Many members use the group to trade or find materials for their businesses, he said.
Lewis transforms old materials into functional art and furniture pieces through his Fayetteville-based shop Woodworx Workshop. He likes the various niches of wood-working, which allow him to explore a wide array of projects, he said. Some of his recent projects include handcrafting a wooden Arkansas flag and transforming old picture frames into anniversary presents.
“I love that there is never a dull moment (with woodworking),” Lewis said. “Every day I walk in I know that I’ve got more work that I can do. I know that it’s not going to be the same thing all day long and that is something that I really appreciate.”
Greg Hall, 55, joined the NWA Makers Club in February after Lewis encouraged him to join. Hall owns a pottery studio called Oddbowlz Ceramics, where he demonstrates how to make pottery pieces such as wine cups, mugs, sponge holders and pitchers for customers daily. He also often invites other local artists to lead pottery-making classes in the studio, he said.
“(When customers) come in the store, they see somebody making something, and that is what I want for the store,” Hall said. “They see stuff as it is being made and not stuff that they are buying off a shelf at Walmart, but actual artists making stuff in front of (them).”
It has been difficult to spread word about his business during the pandemic, especially since it is mostly tourist-based, Hall said.
Dutton chose to transition his furniture making business into a full-time job, limiting his contact with others. Despite being able to work from home, many makers have faced dealing with craft fair cancellations and limited capacity for gallery spaces during the pandemic, Dutton said.
The Facebook groups are a medium for connection and community for makers who may feel isolated due to changes surrounding the pandemic, he said.
Lewis said he is thankful to have an online space to connect with other makers in the area, and he especially loves Fayetteville’s widespread community support for local businesses and art.
“What I like about the maker community is there is room for everybody and it just seems like it really is a community,” Lewis said. “Everyone works together a little bit, and I think that’s really cool.”