As I stroll down Southeast 11th Avenue in Portland, there’s nothing about the gray warehouse I approach that strikes me as remarkable or out of the ordinary. In fact, if I didn’t have plans to be here, I’d probably wander by without giving it a second glance — completely unaware of the hive of creativity buzzing inside.
Today I’ve taken a quick bus ride out of downtown, across the Willamette River and into the Central Eastside, an up-and-coming district where converted industrial structures house ateliers, artisanal manufacturers, hip restaurants and stylish storefronts. In the last decade, the neighborhood has emerged as a hub for creative professionals.
At the center of this burgeoning maker movement is Art Design Portland, or ADX for short. This 14,000-square-foot maker space offers shared space, tools and classes to craftspeople of all kinds. And curious about the artisans working here, I’ve shown up for a tour with ADX founder Kelley Roy, who opened the space in 2011 to serve as a kind of incubator for Portland’s growing number of makers.
Sharing Tools, Space and Skills
I step through the front door and into the lobby of ADX. Though I can’t yet see the large workspaces, I already hear a symphony of people busy making things: the clinging of metal and the bang of hammers occasionally interrupted by the screech of a table saw. From the lobby, I peer through another door to where a few members gather around a coffee bar. I poke my head in as Roy and her lovably mopey golden Lab come walking around the corner.
Within a few moments, we start our walk-through, and it immediately feels like I’m getting a secret tour of the factory floor. But it’s not a secret; ADX invites anyone to come learn more about Portland’s makers on three public tours offered weekly. Plus, you can also learn new skills with loads of classes. Topics range from woodworking to 3-D printing, and everyone from beginners to advanced craftspeople are welcome to attend.
“Here we have everything someone needs to start making,” Roy says, first showing me the Bridge, a room where members can design and prototype products. The space features a 3-D printer, a laser cutter and other technology to tinker with.
From the Bridge, we make our way through other rooms and workspaces that include an overwhelming number of tools. Woodworkers in the woodshop kick around sawdust and keep themselves busy with tools like a band saw, a planer, a table saw, a jointer and more. Nearby, the metal shop is equipped with everything you need to work with metal, including welders, grinders and all kinds of saws. A quieter room known as the Cube includes tools for screen-printing, garment and industrial sewing, and jewelry making.
“What’s unique about ADX is that it isn’t just a space for high-profile designers,” says Roy. “Our members include everyone from hobbyists taking introductory classes to entrepreneurs launching their first products. We bring people of all skill levels and disciplines together under one roof, where they can collaborate, share and learn from each other.”
That Do-It-Yourself Spirit
During my tour, craftspeople happily show off their skills and give me a glimpse of what they’re working on. And as they share their stories, it becomes clear why ADX has emerged as a hub for the city’s makers.
For example, Scott Miyako of Portland Razor Co. moved to Oregon on a whim, but the metal shop here immediately gave him access to the tools he needed to start making quality straight razors, which have become a hit with the city’s bearded denizens. Kyle Deoria, on the other hand, joined ADX to learn more about woodworking, but he eventually started his own company, Deoria Made, to craft and sell high-quality cutting boards for chefs. The common theme in each of these stories is that the access to tools, shared knowledge and a collaborative space makes all the difference.
Roy explains that this has been the idea for ADX since day one. “The two biggest barriers of entry to entrepreneurs are real estate and tooling,” she says. “But here we’re making the entry point more accessible to makers of all kinds. It really feeds off of this spirit in Portland — we want to work for ourselves and build something that’s entirely our own.”
It’s that do-it-yourself spirit that Roy has spent a lot of time reflecting on, especially in researching her book “Portland Made: The Makers of Portland’s Manufacturing Renaissance,” which tells the stories of the legions of entrepreneurs who are redefining manufacturing one handmade product at a time.
“Portland is very much leading the country, if not the world, in artisanal manufacturing,” she says, listing everything from bicycles to artisanal chocolate to hiking boots. “And I believe our maker culture is very place-based; it’s very embedded in this city and in this state. It has a lot to do with this convergence of natural environment, sense of adventure and entrepreneurial spirit.”
And while Roy hopes people from around the world can experience this maker movement, she also hopes they take it as inspiration to reshape their own communities.
“What I hope people get out of visiting Portland and touring ADX is to take this creative spirit back home with them, and to be inspired to support makers in their communities,” she says. “I think, in many ways, that this is the future of our economy.”