An Interview with Jake Harries from Access Space, UK
Interview by Darren Wershler, Jussi Parikka, and Lori Emerson
October 18, 2017
Interviewers: What is your lab called and where is it?
Jake Harries: We're called Access Space, and we are located in the city centre of Sheffield, UK
Interviewers: What sorts of projects and activities form the core of your work? Is there a specific temporal or technological focus for your lab?
Jake Harries: We have three strands to our work: arts, education & technology. Usually our work is a mix of two or all three. We also have a maker space. Our main focus is maker skills education, creative technology workshops to help artists develop new practice mediating technology into the arts, work with the wider community in Sheffield (including those at risk of exclusion such as people with autistic spectrum disorders), partnering with universities for research projects, and helping entrepreneurs develop small scale prototypes.
Interviewers: Who uses the lab? Is it a space for students, for researchers, for seminars, the wider community?
Jake Harries: We have a wide range of people using the space for different purposes. Hypothetically anyone can use Access Space, but it is mainly for creative people to learn new skills and develop ideas. Currently we welcome the public in on Wednesdays for Repair Days where we help them to intervene in product life cycle and give their possessions longer life (keeping them out of land fill).
Interviewers: What sorts of knowledge does the lab produce and how is it circulated?
Jake Harries: We're not great at producing publications! Probably because we're too busy. We have produced two books: Grow Your Own Media Lab (how to create a media lab from recycled and donated computers) and CommonSense (writing and art about the commons). We occasionally give presentations, but now our main focus is social media.
Interviewers: Tell us about your infrastructure. Do you have a designated space and how does that work?
Jake Harries: We have had the same space in the city centre for 17 years, and in 2011 we expanded it to create our maker space, Refab Space. We also now have two more small spaces on the other side of the city centre for exhibitions, meetings and offices. As far as staffing structures go, we try to be as non-hierarchical as we can.
Interviewers: What sorts of support does the lab receive?
Jake Harries: Access Space is an independent UK charity. We apply for funding every year to various bodies including the Arts Council England and various small trusts and charitable foundations. We also have had success partnering with universities on research.
Interviewers: What are your major theoretical touchstones?
Jake Harries: Open source, knowledge sharing, re-use/recycling, diverse community participation, the value of the arts in creating a more empowered society, the importance of the permeable boundaries around technology and the arts.
Interviewers: What would you say is the lab’s most significant accomplishment to date?
Jake Harries: When we closed temporarily for a period of transformation in 2015, we had been the longest continuous internet inclusion project in the UK. We have remained inclusive for all the years we have been open.
Interviewers: Could you briefly describe your plans for the lab over the next 3–5 years?
Jake Harries: We are currently planning to move to a larger space as audiences to our events have often been at capacity, and we want to expand our maker space to include a welding shop.
Interviewers: What makes your lab a lab?
Jake Harries: The creative and enquiring activities people carry out here.