Startup: Art Design Portland

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Fabrication at the ADX workshop in Portland.

Photo courtesy of ADX

AN UNFINISHED SKIFF hung two stories up in a workshop scattered with industrial tools, scrap wood and works in progress. Cut pine mixed with the smoky char of ground metal. The scent lingered like dust in the air.

Light streamed across tables strewn with freshly stained tap handles for a local brewery. New 3D printers silently awaited their next project. In the parking lot, a couple constructed a DIY tiny home.

“There is this stronger connection you have with things you’ve made—a sense of pride when you can say, ‘I’ve made this,’” said Kelley Roy, founder and director of Art Design Portland, a collaborative “maker space” in Southeast Portland. Art Design Portland, or ADX, is a refuge for metalsmiths, woodworkers, designers, screenprinters—one piece of a resurgent back-to manufacturing movement in the country.

“People are moving back to really caring about quality,” she said. “This should be perceived as a sexy, noble, American thing to do.”

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Kelley Roy has been dedicated to growing Portland’s maker movement for more than five years.

Photo courtesy of ADX

At the turn of the twentieth century, selfreliance pervaded all sectors of manufactured goods in the United States—from automobiles and airplanes to bicycles and boots. After WWII, however, industrial output steadily declined as Americans increasingly sought cheaper foreign goods. Over the past few years, Roy has seen a revival of a maker culture in Portland, with people once again interested in craftsmanship.

Roy, 43, is not a traditional craftswoman. Her master’s degree is in urban planning, but her résumé touts everything from developing public transit campaigns for Oregon Metro to owning an industrial gallery and event space called The Art Department to writing Portland Made: The Makers of Portland’s Manufacturing Renaissance.

While running her gallery, Roy encountered many Portland artists struggling to make careers from their crafts. Tools and shop space are overwhelmingly expensive for startups. An entrepreneur at heart, she set out to design a collective space where creators could share equipment and ideas.

“That’s a sharing economy to me,” she said. “It’s all about people sharing tools and bikes and cars.”

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Sharing space and tools fosters collaboration between artists, hobbyists and entrepreneurs.

Photo courtesy of ADX

The undertaking was a huge gamble. TechShop in Beaverton—a satellite of the Bay Area maker space—folded in 2010 due to low membership. Roy didn’t have seed money, nor did she have big investors. She leveraged her house to obtain a loan and bought quality used tools from Craigslist. ADX officially opened in June 2011, built on the idea that it would be shaped by the makers who used it.

“It’s kind of like having a kid,” Roy said and laughed. “You never know what to expect.”

Allie Corcoran, one of ADX’s managing directors, led a small group through the shop’s flex space, where fledgling businesses lease ten-by-ten-foot plots of floor and table space for $350-$650 per month (individual memberships cost $50-$200 per month). Here, they run the ventures while crowdfunding their way into a more permanent solution.

“So far, we’ve had about sixty businesses start here,” Corcoran, 28, said. “It’s cool to see their storefronts around town.” 

While ADX members have their own pet projects under way, occasionally they combine talents for communal good. Last year, ADX invited members to lend a hand constructing two cars for the PDX Adult Soap Box Derby—a duckmobile with the appearance of a floating bath toy, and a second car built for speed.

Corcoran waved her coffee mug at the apple-red racer parked on a workbench, christened the “Falcon Arrow 5000.” Last year, the Falcon’s steering column snapped going into the third heat. It was a setback for manufacturing, but an opportunity for the ADX’s members who will restore the Falcon and run the derby again this August.

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ADX offers in-school, after school and summer classes for kids.

Photo courtesy of ADX

“People draw a lot of inspiration from the natural environment,” Roy noted. “Everyone talks about getting out and riding a bike, going for a hike or about camping or surfing or snowboarding, and I think that comes through in a lot of Portland-made products.” For the second year in a row, ADX partnered with Grain Surfboards, a craft board shaper from Maine, for a four-day workshop in teaching surfers how to build their own boards.

Roy, a surfer who splits time between the city and the coast, took the course. She fashioned a cedar mini tanker—a shorter version of a traditional longboard. “Do you know how much cooler it is to surf on a board you made yourself, than on something else?” Roy said with a laugh. “It still doesn’t make me a better surfer, but this board and I are one.”

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