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The Magic House Teams Up On Makerspace For Kids In St. Louis

Taken on 06-10-19 at The Magic House on Delmar
Corinne Ruff | St. Louis Public Radio
Alexandra Wessels (right) builds a rainbow Lego hotel with twins Sophie (middle) and Cecie (left) Goeller on the first day of a summer camp at The Magic House at MADE. Roughly 30,000 people are expected to visit the space by the end of the year.

Through the doors of the Magic House at MADE, kids are testing rocket launchers, designing video game characters and learning how to use 3D printers.

This new satellite location on Delmar Boulevard in St. Louis is a recent expansion from the children’s museum’s flagship in Kirkwood. What’s different is the focus on entrepreneurship.

“MADE stands for makers, artists, designers and entrepreneurs, so we’ve divided our space into those four areas,” says Beth Fitzgerald, president of The Magic House.

It’s a partnership between the children’s museum and some well-known innovators in St. Louis like entrepreneur Jim McKelvey and the Cortex Innovation Community. Their goal with this new space is to inspire the next wave of entrepreneurs and creatives, most especially in underserved neighborhoods in north St. Louis.

“We’re trying to reach young makers, and everybody is a maker in their heart. I believe every human, especially little humans, like building things,” McKelvey said.

The Making Of MADE

McKelvey always wanted to create a makerspace in St. Louis. The co-founder of Square and Third Degree Glass, among other ventures, was inspired by glassblowing and woodworking early on in life.

“When I was a kid we didn’t have makerspaces like this, but I was always jealous of the guy with a table saw in his garage or somebody’s father who had a welding machine or whose mother had some really cool equipment,” he said. “So as soon as I had the chance, opening a place like this was absolutely something I was going to do.”

McKelvey funded the MADE building, which his Third Degree Class co-founder Doug Auer renovated. The adult makerspace opened up in November, just a year after TechShop filed for bankruptcy. The national makerspace had operated in St. Louis in the Cortex Innovation Community, and CEO Dennis Lower was holding on to over $1 million in equipment — like a water jet, laser cutter and woodworking shop.

“The business model is that I paid for everything, and Dennis, the guys at Cortex got us equipment for basically a buck a year,” McKelvey said. “So we have this super sweetheart deal on the equipment, we have this super sweetheart deal on the space and we’re just trying to cover our costs. I’m hoping it breaks even.”

The Magic House came to MADE with a similar mission to offer a makerspace that’s affordable for all families. While its Kirkwood location charges $12 a day, a day admission to the St. Louis location is just $5. A yearlong family pass is $50, and scholarships are available for summer camps.

That’s thanks in part to a $500,000 donation from Cortex, specifically to cover entrance fees for kids from underserved neighborhoods.  

Taken on 06-10-19
Credit Corinne Ruff | St. Louis Public Radio
Noah Speed (left) and Forrest Hart (right) crank a wheel to launch bottle rockets. This is one of many STEAM-focused activities at The Magic House's first permanent location in St. Louis.

Kids are allowed to play with whatever sparks their curiosity. Digital easels, pottery wheels and laser cutters are all designed to develop skills in science, technology, engineering, art and math. Lower says these kinds of experiences are essential, and making them available for kids of all backgrounds is one step toward making future tech jobs accessible, too.

“Our horizons are determined by what we are exposed to. And so if we’re looking to bring the next gen into the STEM and STEAM professions, we have to start now, we have to captivate their imaginations,” Lower said. “We have to show them what they can do with their hands and their mind.”

A Makers Village

For McKelvey, Lower and others involved in the makers movement, it’s not just about creating one makerspace — but an entire village along Delmar Boulevard between Kingshighway Boulevard and Union Boulevard.

That would include more work shops and retail locations where entrepreneurs could sell their wares. At the end of June, MADE, The Magic House and Third Degree Glass will host the first Delmar Makers Fair for artists and designers to showcase their work.

“What we’re trying to do is make a makers genius cluster,” McKelvey said. “So if you look at the history of other parts of the world that have exceptional talent that’s really deep in an area, what you find is people with similar but not identical backgrounds clustering together. So, we’re hoping to do that with makers here,” he said.

Currently, about a half-dozen businesses operate out of the MADE space, and McKelvey hopes that number rises to 20 or 30 within a year.

He’s also hoping these makers serve as role models to the kids up on the second floor, as they develop their own entrepreneurial skills to market and sell their designs.

“We don’t expect everyone to come in here and build a business. I expect most people will come in here and have fun,” he said, “but there are also those people who will start businesses, and the point is, we have all the tools here to do that.”

Follow Corinne on Twitter:@corinnesusan

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org

Corinne is the economic development reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.