A Makerspace pilot project in Iqaluit is the physical manifestation of a proposal up for $10 million in a Smart Cities funding competition, which could lead to variations of the Makerspace in communities across Nunavut.

“One of the things with Smart Cities is they gave us $250,000 to develop the final proposal to potentially win the $10 million. Part of that money has been used to open the Makerspace in Iqaluit, and a big part of it is to go into as many communities as we can fit and do some consultations,” said Pinnguaq founder Ryan Oliver.

The pilot and the larger proposal, led by the Pinnguaq Association, have the goal of providing central hubs for creativity, innovation, and knowledge-sharing in the territory. In other words, Pinnguaq seeks to create physical locations for play and learning – whether that be in a dedicated building, in a library, or at a school, depending on the needs and desires of each Nunavut community.

The Pinnguaq Association is a non-profit launched in Pangnirtung.

The project, Community, Connectivity, and Digital Access for Suicide Prevention in Nunavut, will be heading into a final pitch in the spring of 2019. Pinnguaq, the Embrace Life Council and the Qaujigiartiit Health Research Centre, as well as the Nunavut Association of Municipalities (NAM) are partners.

After an initial presentation at the NAM annual general meeting in Cambridge Bay in the fall, a consultation team will now visit Pond Inlet, Pangnirtung, Qikiqtarjuaq and Cape Dorset next week. The following week the team will visit Rankin Inlet, Chesterfield Inlet, Naujaat and Kugluktuk.

“That’s the rough of what it’s going to look like for the next two and a half weeks,” said Oliver.

“The final proposal is this 75-page monstrosity of a pitch. So we’re developing that and at the same time trying to bring together as many people as we can for consultation.”

Since presenting to mayors and senior administrative officers, Pinnguaq has been keeping in touch with communities via phone and email, but the physical visits are the final push before the competition deadline.

The Makerspaces are an extension of te(a)ch, another Pinnguaq project which has garnered accolades and high profile-funding, including $400,000 from the Arctic Inspiration Prize and $1.7 million in CanCode funding to develop 100 coding lessons and provide them to 15 Nunavut communities.

“At the same time as the core travelling group (for the Smart Citties pitch), we’re also going to be doing a lot of te(a)ch sessions over the next two months. te(a)ch is a big part of Smart Cities, as well, and although they will not officially be part of this consultation tour, it will inevitably be more thorough because each one lasts five days instead of one, and there will be more hands-on delivery stuff with both kids and elders,” said Oliver.

As an example, Pinnguaq will be in Arviat soon to develop an “extremely unique piece of science curriculum.”

“We’re going to bring together the young hunters of Arviat, a big elders group, the HTO, and a whole bunch of other groups and try to figure out what would the most unique piece of made-in-Nunavut science curriculum look like,” said Oliver.

“That’s the one I’m most excited about.”

Oliver acknowledges that in Nunavut, $10 million really isn’t much, but he also notes any Makerspace must be community-led.

“We can’t be in every community. It’s just not sustainable. Part of this conversation we’ve been having this whole time is which communities could support this from an infrastructure side, as well as a staffing side,” he said.

Meanwhile, at the Makerspace in Iqaluit, hang-out week in mid-January drew a full house of youth at building 754. Artist Gail Hodder is the office manager and she says the usual programming is a mix of art lessons and technology lessons.

Some days, more than 25 kids show up to learn and play. The space opened in September and is gaining in popularity.

“Our consistent programming exists after school. I’ve been breaking the weeks down to different age groups, and one week will be a tech week and the next week will be an art week,” said Hodder.

For those interested in checking out the Iqaluit Makerspace and contributing ideas, Pinnguaq is holding an open house Sunday, Jan. 27 from noon to 2:00 p.m.