Hey Alice, welcome to the Edinburgh Tool Library. Saying as the pandemic has kept you away from all our lovely members and volunteers, we wanted to get to know you and thought we could fire a few questions your way.
Tell us about your journey that brought you to the ETL. What’s been going on with you over the past few years?
Well, if we were meeting in person you’d be able to tell pretty quickly from my melodious accent that I hail from the U.S. of A. I moved to Edinburgh in the spring of 2019, but in many ways, I feel like my path to ETL began long before that. Over the last couple of months, I’ve found myself grinning as I think about the seemingly disparate jobs and making adventures I’ve had over the years and how perfectly they’ve prepared me to make the most out of this job, personally and for the community I hope to serve. When we can all meet-up again over a beer, I can’t wait to share my top 10 tips for creating a mermaid-themed Mardi Gras ball out of trash or explain how working as a doula has changed the way I think about woodworking, but until then, you’ll have to take my word for it that the various strands of my life have landed me exactly where I need to be.
Before moving to Scotland, I had been living in New Orleans for about 7 years working as a curator and community organizer and moonlighting as a fabricator whenever I could find the time. To be honest, I was a bit burnt out on the organizing side of things so when I came over I made a commitment to myself to work with my hands and give the maker part of me a bit more space to grow. That led me to a 6-month stint as an SFX props assistant in film, down in London. I got to do the hands-on fabrication work I love, but I quickly missed the community side of things and feeling like I was some small part of making the world a better place.
When Covid hit, the film shut down, and like so many people I started rooting around for a way to function in this “new world”. With the utmost regard for how difficult and daunting this pandemic has been for so many, I feel incredibly lucky that being laid off gave me a chance to really think about what I wanted to do next and opened the door for this next chapter in my career.
I had to do a bit of a double-take when I came across the advert for this job. I’ve spent my entire career, and life, really, finding ways to weave my love of making in and around my community organizing work and here was an opportunity that married the two. I consider myself a fairly imaginative person, but it had truly never crossed my mind that I could do both in the same role and certainly not within an organisation whose mission encapsulates so many of the things I hold dear; community care through direct action, sustainable and holistic making practices, and a firm belief that small choices can make a huge impact.
Tell us about your background as a maker.
I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t creating something, trying to figure out how something worked, or just keeping my hands busy with some manual task.
In college, I studied animation and installation art and focused most of my work on exploring the ways art can inspire connection to the physical world and the visceral experience of being human. It was a mostly conceptual, pretty angsty, and at the end of the day, a lot of what I was seeking would have more likely been found in going to trade school. However, it did make me think a lot about how important concrete, manual work is to the human experience and gave me access to thinking about making in a myriad of ways, pulling techniques and tools from different disciplines and educational approaches. One of the best classes I ever took was Idiosyncratic Tools where we got to put our woodshop skills to the test by making our own obscure tools. I made a vegetable guillotine and learned the hard way why a riving knife is a table saw’s best friend.
For many years after school, I worked for different galleries and community art spaces on the organizing side of things, but I was always making on the side. Whether it was creating animations and sculptures for art shows, building over-the-top costumes and automata for parades, or helping drywall the local community print shop, I was able to always have my hands on something.
A few years ago, I started working with Nina Nichols, my fairy godmaker and mentor supreme. I assisted her in doing prop-fabrication and set-decoration and eventually joined her as part of the build crew for the Music Box Village, a performance space and art installation of “musical houses” – small structures that are also newly invented instruments. I was able to hone my woodworking, hole-digging, cement pouring skills and had a ball working with some really big kit in their reclaimed metal fabrication workshop.
In my most recent making stint working in an SFX props department on a Marvel movie called The Eternals and on Mission Impossible 7, we did a lot of reconstructing of props out of safe materials and then watching them blow up. We did everything from mould-making to sewing and a whole lot of building breakable balsa furniture. I’m looking forward to making things that don’t fall apart at a flea’s fart!
Your job title – Workshop and Community Manager – how do you build a community, and what communities have you built before?
I feel a kindred spirit with the kind of down to earth, hands-on community work that the Tool Library fosters. I approach community building with an eye towards direct action, a curiosity about and respect for intersectionality, and a focus on the variety of ways that people can come to feel a sense of empowerment and autonomy. I believe this effort requires being dedicated and purposeful in your intention, being aware of your impact and shortcomings, and having a willingness to show up even when you don’t know how or why you’re doing something, but know something needs to be done. And perhaps, most importantly of all, the ability to ask for help so you can keep helping others.
I have been lucky to have been a part of building several incredible communities, but the one that is closest to my heart is Glitter Box N.O, a fundraising shop and community space for women and nonbinary makers. Born from my (and my co-founders!) desire to support marginalized makers and activists through economic empowerment in a tangible way, the shop and community space contain multitudes: showcasing over 150 artists and getting them paid, raising money for local social justice groups, hosting workshops from DIY crafts to birth support, creating jobs, and creating a directory for over 500 women and nonbinary owned businesses. We somehow got all of these programmes off the ground in the first two years and while it sometimes felt as though I was building the boat while we were sailing it, I was a deeply committed, imaginative, and caring captain.
If you were a tool, what tool would you be and why? (You don’t have to use the same one as before!) I’m gonna cause it’s so true! >.<
I would be a hot glue gun because while I love the power of a welder and the grace of well-loved hand-tool, I believe there is no tool too small or simple and that there is no end to what you can do with a hot glue gun and some imagination!
Why do you think organisations like ETL are important in communities?
While providing tools to the public is a purposeful and innovative approach to supporting the community in a direct way, it is the vessel for the larger magic and impact the Edinburgh Tool Library cultivates. Providing tools and other offerings (skills, jobs, workshops, resources) is a means to foster connection, mindfulness, confidence, autonomy, and joy for the individual and the larger community. I am in awe of the practical, purposeful, and all-encompassing way that the resources, attitude, and outreach affect the community. I am made hopeful by organizations like this and believe creating sharing spaces and connections will be the thing that keeps our communities afloat. Building skills, bridges, and really anything you can think of sparks a sense of purpose and belonging that can create an incredible ripple effect.
How are you going to put your stamp on ETL? What do you bring to the party?
I’m really invested in helping people, especially folks who may experience marginalization or othering, benefit from the power of trade work and having a attuned relationship with the things that make up this world. I am incredibly earnest and easily excitable when it comes to learning new skills, connecting like-minded people, and making people feel seen and heard as much as possible. I feel really strongly that people of every age need to use their imaginations and have their curiosity sparked and celebrated. I have enthusiasm in abundance and try and bring a hint of joy and magic to most everything I do!
What makes you jump out of bed in the morning? What motivates you?
My mama always said, find where your great joy meets the world’s great need and at this moment I think I’ve really found it with this job. There’s nothing I like more than knowing I’m going to spend a day working away making something come to life or connecting with people who are as stoked about making and community as I am.
What song would be playing on the opening credits of the movie of your life, and who would be playing you (and why?)?
9 To 5 by Dolly Parton. She’s my patron saint of getting things done and having fun while you do it! I think I’d have to be played by Sigourney Weaver a la Alien and I’d want the cat cast too. My partner thinks I should be played by Steve Buscemi so maybe a mix of the two, bad-ass mechanic babe meets slightly neurotic goofball.
What does sharing mean to you?
Sharing is an act of thoughtfulness for yourself, your community, and the planet. Our ability and desire to share reveals a state of wellbeing in which we believe we have agency, that we can make a difference, and that we are willing to sacrifice for others. It may be a small sacrifice, like time spent or loss of profit, but in sharing you deem that “loss” worthy because of its benefit to something outside yourself. If we are able to share it can demonstrate that we are present and purposeful in how we interact with our things, each other, and the world. It’s about sustainability and a holistic approach to life. Whether it’s a tool, your time, or your knowledge, it’s part of a larger system of care.
You’ve been working for ETL for a wee while. What’s the best bit?
I’m loving learning about all of the different projects and programmes past and present and am completely invigorated by the rest of the team’s investment in and passion for the community. While it is certainly a strange time to start any job, especially as a workshop manager with a closed workshop and community manager when we can only commune in a limited capacity, the spaces and people I have been able to interact with are a complete inspiration and I’m so excited to see it all in full working gear. Plus I got to hang out with Joe the dog the other day!
The other staff have noticed you are slightly glitter-obsessed. What’s that about?
My time in New Orleans was basically a never-ending ritual of glitter baptism. It’s pretty much a requirement of living there plus it makes everything look magical so what’s not to love. I’m trying to wean myself off of the microplastic stuff though and have had some success with edible glitter, plant cellulose, and mica!
Who has been the most influential person in your life and why?
I think it has to be my dad. He’s a complete New Yorker hard ass and a bit gruff, but his love language is acts of service and he does everything in a really thorough, thoughtful way. He has a profound respect for nature and a job well done. He’s a builder and a poet and has always celebrated the Whitmanism “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes” and encouraged me to do the same.