John "Jack" McNulty says it wasn't until he was 27 that he realized he was a "closet weirdo." Now 44, he had moved from Chicago to South Beach in 1997 and then to Fort Lauderdale in 2003. He remembers that painful void of not having any friends. That is what motivates him today, as he runs Makers Square — a tool shop that doubles as a social club.

"Let's make this place 'BrowWeird.' "

During those lonely days of the early 2000s, McNulty, an IT director by day, took up making masks and art cars. Eventually, he connected with some like-minded souls — a band of misfits who like to party and build things but aren't working artists. One day, he and his pals bought a bus online, gutted it, built it out, named it the "Naughty Bus," and drove it to Burning Man. Then they brought it back to Broward.

Inspired by the performance art they'd witnessed in the Nevada desert, "Circus Basura" was born. They built a merry-go-round made of bicycles and then an elaborate and interactive circus installation for FAT Village's Day of the Dead event in 2011. From there, the group wanted to have a permanent, community warehouse, so McNulty and his partners — his wife, Elaine Scantlen; and friend Brian Weiner — researched the "maker" scene that had first cropped up in France and Germany for tool-shop sharing purposes and then, in the past three years, spread to San Francisco.

John "Jack" McNulty and the Makers Square crew.
John "Jack" McNulty and the Makers Square crew.
Power tools like saws are shared among club members
Power tools like saws are shared among club members
A club member creates a work made of beer can tabs.
A club member creates a work made of beer can tabs.

Details

Makers Square, 1142 NE Sixth Ave., in Fort Lauderdale. Tours are held Thursdays from 7 to 10 p.m. Memberships run $75 per month on a yearly contract or $100 per a month on a month-to-month basis. Workshop prices vary. Call 954-816-9191, or visit makerssquare.com.

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"I think there's a backlash against the digital age," McNulty says. "What's happening is everybody is on their cell phones and people lost touch with their hands. If you look at the hipster movement, where they grow crazy eggs or they do hand-blown glass light bulbs, you can see how making things has changed." He muses: "If I were to do my career over again, I would have been a plumber. Learning a trade that you can do anywhere — here, Denver — is a smart move."

He noticed that "there's an inherent loneliness in today's world that people feel. Most people my age have three friends — the guy they grew up with, a neighbor, and the guy you work with. You can have more than that."

With Makers Square, he's providing an antidote to these modern ills. After two years of searching, McNulty and his team finally opened the facility in October. On a recent Thursday night, he guided a group around the funhouse-like facility that houses $100,000 worth of tools and industrial machinery.

The facility follows a health-club model: Sign up for a membership and get access to all the machines in three garages. The metal shop contains rows of hammers, nails, saws, drills, and some serious welding equipment. The model shop has two 3-D printers — one small and the other industrial-sized. And the sewing shop, the most popular room, is stocked with equipment to please any aspiring costumemaker.

Classes are taught on an ongoing basis — in cosplay costumemaking, carpentry, and robotics. Here, it's possible to use a 3-D printer to fabricate a pair of plastic tennis shoes. "Most people fear the tool, so when we train them and they see that they can use it to make things, their confidence is transformed," McNulty says.

On the terrace is a standalone pool. A tightrope is suspended above it. At nighttime events, a juggler can be seen teetering on it while circus music blares from speakers. At parties like this month's Critical Mass afterparty, happening Friday, January 31, guests can mingle around the wooden bar and barbecue area. The Naughty Bus is situated near the bar area.

McNulty eventually quit his IT job to focus on the new space, although his wife and partner still work full-time. "My wife and I always had a love/hate relationship with Fort Lauderdale, because we travel a lot," he says. "Fort Lauderdale has the bones of something wonderful, but it doesn't have the guts and muscles. When I give tours of this place, I try to tell people why we shouldn't bail on Fort Lauderdale.

"Let's make this place 'BrowWeird," he chuckles. "Let's celebrate the quirkiness. A lot of places are artificially weird. South Florida is naturally quirky. South Florida provides 30 percent of CNN news. Wounded souls come here, leave their communities; just got a divorce, change one letter in their name... you know why Key West is so weird? Because it's literally the end of the road."

There are a few other "maker" spaces underway in South Florida, including Hacklab in Boynton Beach and MakeShop Miami. McNulty says the community spirit is flowing. "Instead of saying, 'Hey, I'll just bring my sewing machine and I'll work on my thing while you work on your thing,' people started sharing tools and working on projects together." Makers, he says, "make things to learn mostly how to make it" — not with the primary aim of selling their creations.

"There are a lot of creatives in Broward; they just don't know each other," McNulty says. "If you ask anyone who is driving away with a U-Haul why they're leaving, they'll tell you it's because they didn't meet any friends. We want to be the new Moose Lodges of the future."

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2 comments
albert.jeffers
albert.jeffers

"Closet Weirdo" 

That's the only thing I didn't like about this article. There is nothing weird about men and women pushing each others' boundaries of knowledge. Maybe in today's society there is, but that just says something about today's society.


Maker's Square is a long overdue concept and I will support and applaud any efforts made there and pray it will exist for my children to bring their children so that we can keep our roots. We are Americans and we make great things with our hands.


Namaste

prosperity
prosperity

As a member and teacher at Makers Square, I'd be happy to start making the "moose lodge" style hats. :-D 

But seriously, the group is full of creativity and ability. If someone wants to learn something, there is a community that can help them find the right teacher.  

The equipment that they have on hand is far beyond what most people have in their garage and can help expand a project idea well beyond the original thought. 

Makers Square genuinely welcomes new members and there is usually someone on site to give you a tour of the venue. If no one is around, call the number at www.MakersSquare.com and someone will show you around. It's a great facility led by even greater people who give so much of themselves to help others grow. 

Hope to see you there at a class or using the equipment to make your art.

 
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