Welding Leads visit the Steel Yard in Providence

On Wednesday October 19th the Spark Welding Leads went on a field trip to the Steel Yard in Providence, Rhode Island. They were hosted by Executive Director Howie Sneider whom Hannah met at the White House visit in August. Hannah was also present for the tour.

Here is a write-up of the experience from Ashby Carlisle, a member of the Welding group:


The Steel Yard is awe inspiring. The nearly 4 acre-large facility led Jesse Good, Diane Barcelo, and myself to conclude that our dream of occupying the the old lumber building called Alexander Miner at 150 Howard St in New London ought to stay on the radar screen.

This aside we experienced a successful alternative community-based model that shares many goals and community objectives with Spark.

The story of the Steel Yard began 12 years ago with a group of welders/artists in an empty building on contaminated land paying $25 each per month to use the space. They pooled their equipment and began working.  About two years later they were offered a large paid project which individually could not be handled, but through working together with the backing of the Steel Yard infrastructure, a group was able to successfully complete. Thus began the model they are using today to facilitate education and collaborations that support more people to become skilled in and financially supported by industrial arts.

Today the Yard has five workspaces: welding, blacksmithing, iron casting, small metals and ceramics which provide all the materials, tools, equipment and work space necessary to begin making. Each space is VERY clean and well organized so that it would be easy to access and get to work. Different from the Spark membership approach, the Yard charges $30 per 3 hour session to use a space during open hours multiple times per week. To be able to work in a space each person is required to take a beginning course. The courses are limited to 8 students for both safety and personalized instruction.

It is the Steel Yard’s goal to create local jobs and keep money within the local community. To this end they fabricate many steel items used in Rhode Island communities such as gates, fencing, bike racks and trash/recycling containers. Having these artistic fabrications in local communities both adds beauty to the community and helps keep the Steel Yard as a visible contributing part of the community. As well, this helps bring in income to support operations, something we found very inspiring. Did you know that Spark is working with FRESH to build a bike rack for the community garden on Mercer St.?

Unlike Spark, the Steel Yard does not make money from classes. Revenues outside grants and fundraising are primarily generated through these commissioned projects, often for municipalities. The Yard has dedicated staff to oversee the entire commissioned project program, from generating business to contracts to construction and installation. We are now in conversation with them about partnering on a project so that our team can learn from them about how to do this within the Spark community.

Primarily the Yard sees itself as an agent for the people. It helps people gain skills needed within the community, produces products needed by the community with people from the community and works to keep money within the community. The Yard is currently making 70% its budget through earned income and working toward being 100% sustainable. Also being a Not for Profit organization, all revenue after expenses goes back into supporting the infrastructure, programming and scholarships, thus growing the organization.

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  • commented 2016-10-30 11:12:58 -0400
    Visiting the Steel Yard was a great experience. I am so encouraged that 70% of their budget is earned income—makes it seem very possible to imagine Spark becoming cash flow positive on its own. The Steel Yard does not actively help people who are building skills and doing work do business development. By creating a maker community that invites in all talents Spark is poised to make great things happen.


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