Ypsi Alloy Studios, an artist owned and run makerspace located in a nondescript industrial park in Ypsilanti, has delivered yet another blow to the tired myth of the artist as solitary genius. The studio currently provides working space for 17 talented professional creatives, many of them recent graduates of Eastern Michigan University’s studio arts program, who share tools, room, and inspiration to realize their individual visions, while working communally.
Countless tools, lots of space, always open
This coworking collective is the brainchild of artists Ilana Houten, Elize Jekabson, and Jessica Tenbusch, who conceived and organized the operation in 2015, also sharing the credit and responsibility for selecting tenants, running the day-to-day operations, and managing the paperwork required to keep over 4000 square feet of space and an array of tools and machinery running smoothly 24 hours a day, seven days a week. “We have 4 shared studios, so pretty much all the equipment in there is available for anyone who knows how to use it,“ says Tenbusch. “We have a ceramics area and a metalsmithing area [for small objects such as jewelry]. There are kilns, a full suite of woodworking tools and a metal work area that has a welder, machining tools, and drill presses. We have a really nice wood lathe that one of our artists just bought because she wanted to do wood turning, and it’s open for anyone who knows how to use it.” There’s also a printing press, a weaving loom, a nascent mold-making station, and a 3D printer.
Congeniality and a spirit of collaboration
On a recent visit, I talked to several artists about the day-to-day challenges and opportunities of a collective that includes so many moving parts. They stressed a strong emphasis on professionalism and organization, and getting the right mix of people into the environment. “Part of the application process is that people submit photos [of their work]. We try to make sure that the people who are coming here are professional artists, not just people who want to ‘work on their cars.’ After all, we’re an artists’ studio. We want to make sure that everyone’s work is up to the same standard,” says Tenbusch.
In fact, (the artists) find that the well-organized space and quietly competent atmosphere contribute to peak creativity. Having other artists around enhances the process, explains Jekabsen. “There are times when I purposely try to see if somebody’s here. I need someone around—just having Lorraine [metalsmith Lorraine Kolasa] knocking on something over there will make me more productive, even if she’s just doing her own thing, “ she says.
Reconfiguring natural materials into new forms
The artists of Ypsi Alloy share an impossible-to-miss preoccupation with natural materials and processes. Often, found natural materials are meticulously reconfigured with recycled post-industrial objects into new and unconventional forms. “Elize and I were both at Eastern (EMU) together, and I feel like we were kind of learning in the same environment, and picking up on the same things. There are quite a few people [here] who are from E.M.U.–there’s probably something in the water,” Tenbusch jokes. “We do have critiques together—informal ones where we say, ‘Hey can you come check this out?’ We’re so familiar with each other’s processes and work, that you can show athumbnail sketch [and say] ‘I’m thinking about doing this,’ and other respond, ‘Oh yes, I can see what you’re doing!’ I think it’s nice that we know each other [well] enough that we can give constructive feedback.”
A successful working synergy among creative individuals is a mysterious alchemy. The artists of Ypsi Alloy have captured that lightning in a bottle. With gifted and like-minded colleagues, they have fashioned a place where creativity and craftsmanship are valued and encouraged, and a community that is more than the sum of its excellent parts.
To find out more about Ypsi Alloy visit ypsialloy.com
564 S. Mansfield St. | Ypsilanti