There is an expansive physical space in Rutland, over 14,000 square feet to be exact, known as â€œThe MINT â€“ Rutlandâ€™s Makerspaceâ€ â€” where almost anyone, of any age, interest or skill level, can fulfill the popular mantra to â€œfind your happy place.â€
Dictionaries define finding your happy place as â€œâ€¦a mental visualization of a pleasant location, to avoid thinking or dealing with something unpleasant or painful.â€
The MINT, which stands for â€œMake â€“ Innovate â€“ Network â€“ Tinker,â€ is a real place, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit launched five years ago.
Rutland Economic Development Corporation (the precursor to CEDRR) supported the launch of The MINT with three years of free rent and utilities of the REDC-owned building. Since then, The MINT has been successful in moving towards paying rent and utilities â€” and expanding toward its current 14,000-square-foot space.
The MINT has been described as a â€œplayground for adultsâ€ â€“ a term fully embraced by Kimberly Griffin, who was appointed The MINTâ€™s first fulltime executive director last July. A dedicated educator, Griffin exudes the kind of warmth, cheer, and welcoming demeanor one would hope to see at a venue that encourages innovation and â€œtinkering.â€
In a recent meeting, Griffin shared some of her observations about The MINT after several months in the top job. She emphasizes The MINT is so much more than its workshop space, which includes 12 disparate studios. â€œThe enthusiasm of the people here is contagious,â€ she said. â€œDuring the day there are about six staff working intensely on various projects. But itâ€™s from 5 to 9 p.m., that the place is really buzzing.â€
The MINT offers a breadth and depth of activities, workshops, and networking opportunities to explore the entire spectrum of STEAM projects â€” science, technology, engineering, art and architecture, and math. Itâ€™s a place, a community, and a happening, where hobbyists, craftspeople and trade professionals visualize, explore, teach, learn, collaborate, construct, and incubate creative products and services.
As Griffin puts it, â€œRunning The MINT is more than overseeing the envelope of the building.â€ She describes her responsibilities from three perspectives: 1) operating the Makerspace; 2) expanding support for a five-year-old nonprofit; and 3) marshalling the growth of a business incubator with the potential to boost the greater Rutland regionâ€™s economy.
â€œFirst and foremost, The MINT is a unique Makerspace that welcomes dabblers, hobbyists, accomplished crafts persons and professional tradespeople alike,â€ Griffin confirmed. â€œOur membership model is similar to a gymâ€™s, in that our members have access to the space and all our equipment seven days a week, during regular hours (8 a.m.-9 p.m.).â€
Membership fees include most of The MINTâ€™s basic instruction, and access to members-only classes and events.
Through The MINTâ€™s fully equipped business incubator, members can research, conceive, and build prototype products; collaborate, teach, and learn from individuals with complementary skills; obtain assistance with business planning; and gain expertise about the most current manufacturing processes.
Griffinâ€™s responsibilities include fundraising to increase the organizationâ€™s capacity to meet strategic goals and generate maximum benefit for its stakeholders and the community The MINT serves.
â€œIâ€™m the project manager and chief problem-solver, with responsibility for the big picture, inside and outside the building,â€ Griffin noted. â€œFor the first five years, we planted the seeds and tended to the roots. Now, we have more structure and systems to facilitate strategic growth.
â€œI have to grow our membership pool, expand funding, and, of course, increase our roster of skilled craftspeople, trades professionals and hobbyists.â€
In fact, Griffinâ€™s experience and expertise as an architect included responsibility for generating revenue. Her work with educational nonprofits that relied too heavily on tuition or membership fees, made her acutely aware of the unpredictability of those revenue models. That background will serve her well as The MINTâ€™s chief ambassador.
Tyler Richardson, operations director for CEDRR and a board member of The MINT, wrote in an email: â€œKimâ€™s personality and diverse strengths have provided her not only with significant technical talents but also community development talents. Both are essential in this demanding role. She is very passionate about The MINTâ€™s mission and clearly sees the positive impact The MINT can have on our community.â€
In 2021, The MINT was awarded an Expanding Access Grant for $200,000, which increased the organizationâ€™s capacity to do more substantive youth education and STEAM programs.
â€œTo see a childâ€™s joy at touching something they built with their own hands, rather than sitting in front of a screen â€“ thatâ€™s the kind of progress that can help turn the ship in how all of us think about how and where we buy,â€ Griffin said.
As winter is here, Killington-Rutland residents should strongly consider a membership to The MINT, for themselves or loved ones. During the holidays, The MINT is selling several artisansâ€™ products through a pop-up shop located on Merchants Row in downtown Rutland.
In its essence, The MINT is a vibrant environment, clearly designed to welcome individuals who want to construct works of beauty and utility, whether profound or prosaic, for fun and, perhaps, for financial enrichment as well. To do so in a place where they can learn from and collaborate with other creative individuals is a huge plus.
In addition, The MINT is an indispensable nonprofit fostering excitement about science, engineering, technology, the arts and architecture, and math â€“ especially in children. Now more than ever, the STEAM fields, and The MINT as their catalyst, warrant generous support.
Just as crucial are The MINTâ€™s contributions to Vermontâ€™s construction industry â€“ helping to attract, train and inspire skilled electricians, plumbers, woodworkers, metalworkers and other tradespersons that can help address our housing shortage.
And, finally, as a place where adults and children alike can be energized by science, technology, engineering, art, architecture, and math, The MINT is helping to power the visionaries of the future. The visionaries who will convince others that they too can find their happy place â€“ right here in Rutland, Vermont.
For more information, visit: rutlandmint.org.