Muncie’s Maker Force

The History and Future of Madjax

<p>The Madjax sign sits on the corner of South Madison and East Jackson streets. Madjax Maker Force was originally called Gearbox Muncie: A Maker Hub, but the name changed in 2016 to better reflect the mission of the space. <strong>Rylan Capper, DN </strong></p>

The Madjax sign sits on the corner of South Madison and East Jackson streets. Madjax Maker Force was originally called Gearbox Muncie: A Maker Hub, but the name changed in 2016 to better reflect the mission of the space. Rylan Capper, DN

Turning the Gears

 A former 80,000-square-foot laundry facility in Muncie holds limitless possibilities. 

Boombox music fills the second floor while artists move tables to set up for First Thursday, a monthly event to draw people to explore art and culture downtown. A woodworker helps children build birdhouses while Steven Knipp colors hair in his salon a few doors down. Adjacent businesses invite people in for gift shopping or ax throwing.

The Madjax Maker Force opened in 2016 to “foster a collaborative environment where people can explore and create at the intersection of science, technology, engineering, art, mathematics and culture,” according to its website. It is home to 35 businesses and hosts many Ball State classes and community meetings. Jane Ellery, secretary and treasurer of the Sustainable Muncie board, a nonprofit that manages the space, said this public space has even more potential for growth and innovation.

Ellery helped transform the abandoned warehouse into a creative space that connects the community through creativity. Her research and support from the Muncie community led to the creation of Madjax, which blends the names of its location at the intersection of South Madison and East Jackson streets.

Though Madjax is now a celebrated downtown landmark and working space, Ellery, Ball State assistant professor of wellness management, said Sustainable Muncie faced a variety of challenges at the start of Madjax’s development, such as community disagreements with the building renovation, attracting anchor businesses and securing loans and grants. But Ellery and her fellow board members and colleagues were committed to building a makerspace. They knew it could offer community-building opportunities, as well as physical health and societal benefits, she said.

Ellery went on sabbatical in spring 2017 to research with Project for Public Spaces, a New York-based organization that strives to make community spaces accessible and beneficial. She aimed to learn about the connection between urban planning, landscape architecture and physical health improvements.

“They were doing this stuff in communities and they were seeing that people were getting healthier and they wanted to be able to tell that story,” Ellery said. “You keep doing what you’re doing and make communities better and create the conditions where people want to get outside and use public spaces, and interact with each other socially, and laugh and walk — do all these things that in your normal life should be part of what makes a great life. If we can do that, then good health will follow.”

Ellery joined the Sustainable Muncie Board that same year and became chair in January 2021. She helped write grant applications and shared her research with Muncie community leaders, including former Muncie Mayor Dennis Tyler.

Tyler had created the Community Development Concept Exploration Committee in October 2014 to study the idea of an innovation center that could unify local businesses, Ball State and community members. The first proposal was called “Gearbox: Muncie – A Maker Hub,” which was changed to “Madjax Maker Force” in 2016 to better reflect the mission.

Inspired by the word “workforce,” a maker force is a community of makers and creators, Ellery explained. Although makers often have their own jobs and interests, together, they make up a maker force. 

“How do we rethink who we are and how we interact with the world to be part of this innovative community where we get to talk about what could be, instead of being asked to produce whatever somebody’s telling me to produce?” Ellery said. “That’s the real key in my research: how do we allow people the privilege of being a producer or a maker or a builder in the system, instead of asking them to be a consumer or a commodity?”

With more interaction between makers and visitors at Madjax, Ellery said she looks forward to Madjax evolving beyond existing businesses and programs. Though visiting artists fill the warehouse during First Thursdays and other events, there’s still room to rent studio space or gallery walls.

While the public hours of the entire space are most consistently 9 a.m. – 4 p.m., each business owner and artist in Madjax has access to the building whenever they need it, and many businesses have longer operating hours.

Before the Muncie Redevelopment Commission bought the Cintas building in 2015, it sat largely vacant since 2009 when the laundry facility closed. In addition to renovating the inside of the warehouse, Madjax has updated the truck that sits on top of the welcome sign. Breanna Daugherty, DN File

Connecting the Community

Madjax houses 35 businesses, which pay monthly rent or — work out trades for teaching classes or skills in exchange for their specific operating space. Todd Donati, former executive director of the Muncie Redevelopment Commission (MRC), said growth was slow but steady since the space started recruiting anchor businesses in 2014. Tribune Showprint, which recently moved out of Madjax, was the first business to enter the makerspace in 2016. Guardian Brewing Company was the first of the current anchor businesses to move into Madjax in 2017. The MRC wanted larger businesses to move into the space to generate interest among small startups.

“We found that there were many small, in-home operations and many concept ideas that just did not have the resources to move forward to become an established business,” Donati said. “The committee created the environment to support those groups.”

The MRC bought the laundry facility, then called the “Cintas building,” in 2015. Donati said the commission helped oversee financial operations of the Sustainable Muncie Corporation until it began operating independently later that year. Ellery said Sustainable Muncie paid back all initial loans in 2015 but continues to gradually pay back a 20-year city loan issued in 2017 for $4.5 million.

Donati said many Muncie residents were excited for the future of Madjax, but some expressed concerns about its location and viability — one of the most prominent dissents being from a Ball State trustee, Tom Bracken.

Overcoming Hurdles

Bracken, former president of the George and Frances Ball Foundation, filed a lawsuit against the City of Muncie in September 2017 after the Muncie Economic Development Commission approved the $4.5 million loan for Madjax construction projects. 

In the complaint, Bracken wrote that Sustainable Muncie leased the building to the MRC, and if the commission couldn’t find enough businesses as subleases, Muncie taxpayers would suffer from an increase in property taxes. Donati said the city modified its budget to provide sufficient funds for the project, and Madjax had enough support from community partners to avoid defaulting on the city’s loan.

In a November 2017 hearing, Bracken said the Cintas building was a “money pit” and “it’s the biggest eyesore in downtown Muncie, and quite honestly, there’s no way to fix that for any reasonable amount of money.” Bracken told the city council it would be better to invest in a city park and underground parking in place of renovating the Cintas building.

Businesses that had signed leases were not able to move into Madjax until the lawsuit was settled. In July 2018, the court struck down Bracken’s complaint. Ellery said she didn’t have hard feelings toward Bracken; everyone deserves a voice in such a large city project, she added.

Sustaining its Mission

Donati said the MRC was able to continue discussing potential subleases with small businesses during the lawsuit.

“[The lawsuit] cost us valuable time and delayed the full process for over a year; however, we were able to continue the development of small businesses during this period and banked on winning the court case,” he said. “We eventually won this case and were able to move forward.”

Donati, who served on the MRC and Sustainable Muncie Board during this time, said Muncie needs Madjax and community workspaces to retain talented and educated people interested in starting businesses and innovating in the community.

“There are many other competitive communities that small businesses and young talent can choose from,” he said. “If we are to continue to grow our community through business development, create job opportunities and establish a commitment and willingness that Muncie welcomes and supports small business, we must be competitive in this area.”

Sustainable Muncie’s efforts focus on economic and environmental sustainability. Working to “revitalize a low- or moderate-income community,” Sustainable Muncie provides loans or free rent to businesses that provide classes to the public.

Tammeron and Anna Francis, who run ClayWood Pottery out of Madjax, paid $130 each month for studio space when they first moved in November 2019. While the rent was still affordable, Tammeron said he is grateful for the alternative rent agreement.

Claywood also received a $1,000 grant from Madjax to help cover production costs of a storytelling pottery class series for people over the age of 65. Madjax offered Claywood Pottery this money after the Francises received $1,000 from the Indiana Arts Commission for the project. The class begins May 1 and costs $20 for included tools across the five weeks.

Tammeron Francis has training in architecture and urban sketching, but he has also found creative expression in pottery. Tammeron and his wife, Anna Francis, founded ClayWood Pottery in 2017. Madjax, Photo Courtesy

“In the past, that’s been the tradition for crass, older people is to sit down and waste time,” he said. “Instead, the intent here is to build skills so that people can express themselves and take those skills to be creative people in the future.”

Interested participants in the series can register at Tammeron said each week will focus on a different piece so people can walk away from the class with a self-made dinnerware set.

Tammeron also hosts monthly workshops on drawing and pottery techniques, which helps the business operate rent-free from its second-floor studio space.

“They want to get some energy going on here, so that’s the intent,” Tammeron said. “I have high hopes for places like this.”

Tammeron said he and Anna have always been interested in ceramic co-ops in which artists create together and share tools and materials. Because the Francises moved into Madjax a few months before COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, Tammeron said he hasn’t been able to network with as many artists as he wants to, but he hopes for those experiences in the future.

“People are naturally gregarious and they want to know about process,” Tammeron said. “This is what makes the arts important — people just enjoy the secret of how something is made. [Madjax] is a great fixture for the community. This is a very promising kind of thing here.”

Customers sit at the bar April 25 at the Guardian Brewing Company in Madjax. Co-owners Bill Kerr and Jason Phillips said this space is larger than the brewery's former White River Plaza location. Rylan Capper, DN

From the Beginning

Though Guardian Brewing Company is the longest standing business in Madjax, co-owner Bill Kerr said the process of moving into Madjax was “a little hectic.”

The brewery moved into the space, which was specially added to the existing warehouse, in 2017 after discussing the possibility of being an anchor business with Sustainable Muncie board members. Guardian Brewing Company had been operating out of a White River Plaza location with two barrels for brewing, and it now has a five-barrel system in Madjax.

“It took a little while to get some traction, but I think we’ve fulfilled our part of the bargain as far as bringing people into the building,” Kerr said. “It seems like we’re kind of the main attraction now, so it’s been good. It’s helped us expand.”

Kerr said Guardian recently bought the Heorot Pub and Draught House, another downtown Muncie bar. He said the current employees are staying at the pub but Guardian is now running it. Since Guardian moved into Madjax, Kerr said the brewery has seen growth each year.

“One of the biggest advantages of [Madjax] is the location,” he said. “It’s kind of hard to find a building right downtown to put our size of a brewery into. It worked to our advantage for now … at some point, we’re going to probably outgrow that place.”

Jason Phillips poses for a photo April 25 outside his brewery in Madjax. Co-owners Philips and Bill Kerr founded the brewery in 2015. Rylan Capper, DN

Though Kerr said his customers sometimes complain about finding parking, he said he thinks Madjax management will soon find solutions to expand its current free parking lots. Because Madjax has welcomed new tenants recently, Kerr said the building and parking lots can get crowded, but he personally likes seeing more people in the building.

Beyond new tenants moving into Madjax in the past few years, Kerr said Ball State architecture students have been able to help the growth of the makerspace by experimenting with making the outdoor courtyard area look more inviting.

“Some of their tasks include figuring out how to make the courtyard look better and designing things, so they get some real-world practical application,” he said. “There’s just some good partnerships going on with what’s in the building.”

Kerr said Guardian tries to partner with other businesses when it can, such as selling food and drinks to customers of Mad Axe Muncie, which moved into Madjax in February. Before Tribune Showprint moved out of Madjax, Kerr said Guardian would partner with the print shop to make branded T-shirts and sweatshirts.

Guardian also displays artwork from Madjax artists to help promote their work and sell pieces. Kerr said Guardian doesn’t charge any of the three artists for displaying their work and Mark Rosander, one of the displayed artists, helps manage the brewery’s art wall.

For the future growth of Madjax, Kerr said he hopes people work to upgrade the building’s facade so people pay more attention to the space.

“I think if they can get those things accomplished and maybe some facade work to make the building look a little bit nicer and just [invite] more activity,” he said, “we’re going to keep doing our part to support that … I think we will probably continue to see it grow.”

Beer stickers are displayed on a post April 25 at the Guardian Brewing Company in Madjax. The brewery moved into its current location in Madjax in 2017. Rylan Capper, DN

Neighborhood Betterment

The Ball Brothers Foundation has supported a variety of projects at Madjax, from the reconstruction of entrances in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act to workforce development programs at Purdue Polytechnic’s space.

Jud Fisher, president and CEO of the Ball Brothers Foundation, remembered Madjax being “an interesting proposition … because of the possibility of that fusion center where education, work and makerspaces were being formed so that you had all of that energy and vitality coming together in one spot.”

The Ball Brothers Foundation has granted Madjax and projects within it more than $600,000 since 2017. Fisher said the foundation’s board of directors reviews each grant application individually and discusses whether it would fund a project if it were located outside Madjax.

“We get pretty objective about that in terms of ‘Does that CAP program from Ball State provide a really unique thing for this community? Yes, we think it does,’” he said. “‘If it was in another building somewhere, would we fund it? Yes, we would.’ So the fact that it’s in Madjax is just a plus because of the idea of a makerspace, the idea of a fusion center of everything kind of coming together in one place in a downtown location.”

The Ball Brothers Foundation has six different areas of focus it considers in granting funds: arts, culture and humanities, education, environment, health, human services, and public society and benefit. The grants Madjax has received at large all under public society and benefit.

The Ball Brothers Foundation website states it prioritizes grant requests that aim to better neighborhoods and communities adjacent to downtown Muncie. Fisher said the foundation likes to fund projects that reinvent a dilapidated or vacant space, like Madjax does.

“That would be interesting to us to help out from an aesthetic and functional perspective so that you don’t have a building kind of sitting vacant,” he said. “There’s programs and projects throughout the community that we like to help with so there’s curb appeal for our community.”

Fisher said he and members of the foundation’s board of directors have completed a few site visits to Madjax to see the programs they’re funding in action.

“I've been there several times for that purpose — looking at the facility and talking to their board and I've also been there personally,” he said. “I've been in there because I like it. It's a fun place to go to meet people. So I've been there for both business reasons and for personal fun.”

The Ball Brothers Foundation also pays rent for Book Arts Collaborative, a Ball State immersive learning program founded by Rai Peterson. Peterson said she moved into Madjax in 2016 with Book Arts by way of “a perfect storm.”

The associate professor of English said she wanted to launch an immersive learning program to give students the opportunity to learn printing and bookbinding skills, as well as to lead workshops for community members.

Kaitlyn Sims reaches for type to set before printing at the Book Arts Collaborative in 2017. The class was originally open to business, art and English majors, but later opened to all majors of study. Emma Rogers, DN File

Because she knew iron printing presses would need space beyond what a classroom could provide, Peterson looked at locations in downtown Muncie. Though only six businesses were operating out of Madjax at the time, Peterson saw an opportunity for Book Arts in the studio space next to the oldest, continuously operating print shop in the country — Tribune Showprint.

Though Tribune Showprint no longer operates out of Madjax, as it moved to a larger studio space southwest of the Muncie Mall in January, Peterson said Book Arts has reaped benefits beyond being the beneficiary of some business from Tribune’s visitors.

“We wanted our own space where we weren’t bothering people, and we’ve had that and it’s been great — it’s been really perfect for us,” Peterson said. “There are also other businesses in Madjax that we work with. For instance, Tom Steiner, the woodworker, has built things for us. Guardian could put up a beer tent outside our festival, so we worked with them.”

Peterson said an Indianapolis printer helped her find someone who loaned multiple unused presses to her “for like $1 a year.” Although Book Arts Collaborative is closing its doors when Peterson retires in May, former students are starting bookbinding shops on Etsy.

Additionally, projects from Book Arts students will be memorialized in Bracken Library archives through the “Opus Project.” Peterson said the project is an opportunity for each current student in the class to show what they have learned from Book Arts and create something they’re proud of related to printing and bookbinding.

The University Archives will add some items from the Opus Project to its collection of Book Arts materials after students get a chance to display them at First Thursday May 5. Peterson said Book Arts’ published authors will attend that First Thursday, and Ball State faculty will judge and offer feedback on works in the Opus Project.

Creating Opportunities

In addition to offering a place for students to explore diverse interests, Madjax has also offered expansion opportunities for local businesses, one of which is The Aerial Annex.

Lindsay Fuller, owner of The Aerial Annex, opened Aerial Fit2Fly in 2018 in Anderson, Indiana. The Anderson studio offers a variety of group fitness activities, she said, but she wanted to expand to a location in Muncie where she could specialize in aerial silks in which acrobats perform while hanging from fabric tethered to the ceiling. 

Lindsay Fuller, owner of The Aerial Annex, hangs from an aerial silk April 25 in Madjax. Fuller has been practicing aerial acrobatics since 2018. Rylan Capper, DN

The Aerial Annex moved into Madjax in January 2021 and is hosting a variety of workshops for people of different experience and age levels interested in aerial silks.

Fuller and two other Muncie instructors teach introductory aerial skills and workshops that allow students to gradually build strength and flexibility to perform more complex moves during each lesson.

Madjax’s steel support beams and high ceilings were perfect for the aerial silks, Fuller said, because The Aerial Annex needs those specific structural features to safely teach and perform. The Aerial Annex is located on a former loading dock, with doors that open out to Guardian Brewing Company and the outdoor courtyard.

“I love the garage doors that open out to the brewery,” Fuller said. “On a nice day, people are walking by and they walk up to check it out and see what we’re doing in here. It’s good for advertising, just getting our name out there and letting people know what we do here. We're not tucked away in some warehouse that nobody knows about.”

Fuller said she tries to be in Madjax during busy events, like First Thursdays, to advertise her business and offer drawings for free classes. Hosting showcase events and demonstrations is another outreach strategy Fuller is trying. She said a June 5 showcase will feature 15 student performers who have been working on different acts.

“The whole building just has so many fun things going on,” Fuller said. “I feel like we fit in really well here.”

Aerial silks hang in front of a blackboard outlining class rules April 25 at The Aerial Annex in Madjax. Each color of fabric is a different elasticity. Rylan Capper, DN

Expanding Education

 Kyra Zylstra, director of the Future of Work Initiative, works out of Madjax to expand technological education and immersive experiences for Muncie residents. This initiative includes a network of businesses and nonprofits committed to building a resilient community and workforce.

Future of Work partners with Web of Support: Everybody Succeeds and the Muncie Technology and Engineering Network (MTEN) to provide STEM experiences and mentorship to Muncie high school students and others interested in strengthening their innovation skills. Zylstra said the initiative started in late 2018 to advance Madjax’s mission of building a collaborative community and workforce.

“A lot of what we do with the Future of Work is to activate person-centered initiatives and collaborative networks, and it's focused around the workforce of the future,” Zylstra said. “What we see in Madjax is that the maker force [and] the maker mindset are really being something that fuels the future of work. The technical and human skills — what really ties those together is a maker mindset.”

Zylstra said Future of Work programs are collaborative and focus on building community to emphasize communication and soft skills that technology can’t do on its own.

"What comes with the rise of automation and the rise of technology skills is the need for human skills — the things that robots can't do,” she said. “So how do we think like a maker in the way that we start to create opportunities to expand innovative thinking, as well as teach skills that really could lead to workforce opportunities?”

Zylstra said Future of Work hosts a variety of programs inside Madjax, and the inspiration for these programs often comes from which makers want to lead workshops and which community members have shown interest in getting involved.

The Maker Monday series is one example of community programming Zylstra listed as a collaborative effort between makers in Madjax and community organizations. Each Monday at 6:30 p.m., a different organization hosts the free workshops, which range from coffee brewing to acrobatics.

Lisa Watson works on her aerial acrobatics technique April 25 at The Aerial Annex in Madjax. Watson is the event coordinator at Madjax. Rylan Capper, DN

While Future of Work has offered a variety of opportunities for families, students and retirees, Zylstra said staff are committed to welcoming anyone who wants to get involved.

“Madjax is such a creative and engaging space for us to start to offer something new and think a little bit differently,” she said. “Madjax functions a lot like a startup, so we're a scrappy, creative team … we really try to help people activate their strengths and work in what they're really good at.”

For the progress of the Future of Work initiative, Zylstra said she wants to welcome high school and college students to the space so they can explore how to fit creativity into their lives. One partnership that is working to offer those experiences for high school students is Ivy Tech’s Upward Bound program, housed in Muncie Central High School. The program helps high schoolers from lower-income or first-generation households achieve success through mentorship, tutoring and professional development.

In addition to expanding opportunities for students, Ellery said Madjax is exploring new ways for people to experience Madjax programs, services and goods in return for time sweeping the floor or other services. 

While Zylstra said she loves Madjax’s bustling atmosphere and innovative collaborations, the space might be a stressful environment for others. Because Madjax renovated the former Cintas building, construction noise continues as Sustainable Muncie makes repairs and improvements.

“I think a lot of that is just par for the course when we look at how we reinvent spaces,” she said. “So all of those challenges give us the opportunity to be more creative in how we engage and maybe change our expectations.”

Opening Doors

For Ball State junior Maddie Mills-Craig, the Madjax building was a mystery until she became a part-time media specialist for Future of Work in September 2020. For the first few months of her job, Mills-Craig said she was still learning the building’s layout and its range of businesses and programs.

Now a Future of Work intern, the public relations and history major said she has tremendous growth and change in the maker community. 

“There’s always something new happening here,” she said. “It’s been really cool every time I come into the building to see new developments.”

Mills-Craig designs posters for Madjax events and drafts press releases to local news outlets. However, she said her favorite project she’s done in Madjax wasn't part of her job responsibilities — it was taking a Book Arts Collaborative class. 

“I’d say that’s probably one of the coolest things I’ve done here,” Mills-Craig said. “If I didn’t work at Madjax, I wouldn’t have known about that at all.”

Mills-Craig said she spends about 15 hours a week in Madjax on Tuesdays and Thursdays between her internship responsibilities and the Book Arts class. Sometimes, she brings friends who want a place to work on homework off campus.

Not only does Madjax offer a creative space for makers and visitors, Mills-Craig said, it also helps her advance her career and make connections in Muncie. 

“For students, if they want to get off campus and explore more of Muncie, I would say Madjax is a great place for that,” Mills-Craig said. “There’s so many businesses here, but it’s one location and you can see different aspects of Muncie.”

Watching families participate in projects together or view and buy art during First Thursdays is when the building feels the most “alive,” Mills-Craig said.

Reviving Practices

While Mills-Craig and other Book Arts students mostly see bookbinding as a hobby, senior English major Evan Humphrey found a new career passion through his six semesters in Book Arts Collaborative.

“Everything in here has been obsolete for 70 years, probably,” Humphrey said. “We’re keeping a dead and dying industry alive. These are traditionally apprenticeship-taught skills, and nobody does things this way anymore. It's just really cool to be learning a historical skill like this and keep them alive.”

Humphrey said a current project of Book Arts Collaborative is binding sketchbooks for Muncie high school students who don’t have their own sketchbooks. He is also bookbinding independently from the class and launched a bookbinding Etsy shop this year.

From the Book Arts Collaborative class, Humphrey said he is more interested in archiving and library science as a career than before he started the class. He hopes to go to graduate school for library science and keep bookbinding and printing techniques alive after the shop closes in Madjax.

“It’s just neat that this is a space that is crafty — people who build and make things,” Humphrey said. “There’s a lot of different spaces and different kinds of things in here.”

Rai Peterson shows Gipson Schabel how to make miniature books at the Book Arts Collaborative in downtown Muncie in 2017. The makerspace also holds workshops for the community to learn about book arts skills. Emma Rogers, DN File

Continued Growth

Book Arts Collaborative has also sparked senior general studies major Rayah O’Rear’s interest in continuing the craft personally after her Ball State career.

O’Rear is graduating with a degree in general studies with minors in apparel design, studio arts, American Sign Language, Deaf studies and entrepreneurial management. Though she has many interests, she hopes to be a professional bookbinder — one of her personal childhood dreams. She said she remembered reading “Inkheart” by Cornelia Funke and wanted to grow up to be like the bookbinder.

“As I grew up, I didn't do that,” O’Rear said, “Then, I heard about bookbinding that we had at Ball State, so I knew I had to get deeply, deeply involved.”

O’Rear is moving into a Pensacola, Florida, apartment with a bookbinding studio after she graduates in May. She hopes to produce and sell her own books, as well as lead community workshops.

“I’ve taught many workshops here [at Book Arts], so I want to get involved in the art community there and continue bookbinding,” she said. “There’s nowhere on Ball State’s campus that I could imagine Book Arts thriving as much as in this beautiful, lovely area where everyone’s so friendly … Madjax really helped in that way with Book Arts.”

O’Rear has been in Book Arts Collaborative for three years, and she has been able to take leadership positions, such as grading and offering feedback on other students’ work, because of her experience. She said leading community workshops at Madjax has also offered her skills she can take into professional bookbinding.

“This is the last semester for Book Arts … but we’re all trying to look at it in a really positive way, like, ‘Look at what we’ve gained from Book Arts and look how Book Arts has grown,’” O’Rear said. “It will be sad, but I’m trying to be positive about it and then, kind of continue the spirit of Book Arts in another state as I grow.”

Some of Debra Inkhart Dragoo's artwork is displayed on Guardian Brewing Company's art wall April 25. Another artist, Mark Rosander, organizes the wall. Rylan Capper, DN

Maintaining Space

One area of Madjax awaiting more growth and involvement is the artist community space on the second floor, where Tammeron and Anna Francis run Claywood Pottery. There are still available gallery walls and spaces for people to rent and use beyond outreach events like First Thursday, said Debra Gindhart Dragoo, curator and coordinator for Madjax artists.

Dragoo has a free gallery space included in her contract, where she creates and sells her art and opens space for other artists to display their work on her “collaboration wall.” Because she said she doesn’t have time to fill one of the outer walls of her gallery space herself, she asks other artists to send her pieces they’ve created or photos she can display to add to personally.

Dragoo calls herself a “found objects preservationist,” because she enjoys taking antique paintings, jewelry and other items and adding googly eyes or humorous text to them. She also hopes to get more children involved in Madjax and its programs by offering workshops for Scout troops or after-school programs.

“That’s my favorite thing — multigenerational experiences — because we can learn so much from each other,” she said.

Dragoo has led jewelry-making workshops with Girl Scout troops and said she is also hoping to cement a partnership with other organizations in downtown Muncie, such as Cornerstone Center for the Arts, to expand local arts and culture education and appreciation.

“It’s a really neat community,” Dragoo said. “[Madjax] has grown a lot since I was first here. I was the first artist exhibiting for First Thursday, and now, we have 20 to 30 artists — maybe more — each month.”

Dragoo started exhibiting her work at Madjax in 2018 and became the artist coordinator in 2021. Some of her responsibilities include promoting First Thursday and other community events. Because Dragoo also likes to repurpose old art, she sees Madjax as a metaphor for her work — repurposing an industrial factory into a makerspace.

“To save the building and create this maker creative hub has been a real joy for me,” she said.

Dragoo said one of her favorite experiences during her time at Madjax has been seeing collaborations between artists, makers and visitors. However, she wants to see even more collaboration and art filling the walls. 

For empty gallery walls, Dragoo said she would love for community members to create murals in addition to individual artists renting those spaces to display their own work. 

Local Muncie artist Debra Gindheart Dragoo smiles in her art display at Madjax in April 2018. Dragoo displayed her work in Madjax for about three years before becoming curator and coordinator for Madjax artists in 2021. Rebecca Slezak, DN File

Vicki Veach, executive director of the Muncie Downtown Development Partnership (MDDP), said she hopes Madjax and artists within it “continue to solidify their identity and what they really want to become and then, they can continue to grow in that capacity.”

Veach said Madjax is one of nearly 300 downtown businesses MDDP helps promote to Muncie residents and tourists. She tries to stay aware of events Madjax has coming up and businesses operating out of the makerspace so MDDP can better advertise that information.

Both Madjax and MDDP promote collaborative events like First Thursday, as well as work together to offer a Guardian Brewing Company tent at Canan Commons events or include Madjax businesses in monthly DWNTWN Game Nights.

“They have a lot of activity during First Thursday and they promote that — which just supplements the promotion we do for that event anyway,” Veach said. “As they continue to provide resources … that will become more relevant information to the community, and then more people will start realizing what Madjax does and how it affects everything.”

Veach said Madjax can be a tourist destination in Muncie, as well as promote business for nearby hotels or restaurants. Additionally, businesses and artists that started in Madjax that now have their own spaces bring in more tax revenue for the City of Muncie.

Veach has been MDDP executive director for more than 10 years, so she has seen Madjax grow since its beginning. While her job is “looking at the big picture” with Sustainable Muncie board members to determine how Madjax can become a larger attraction, she said she is impressed with the growth Madjax has seen in its six years of operation.

“Not-for-profit startups are not the easiest thing sometimes,” she said. “I think, in the beginning, there were some growing pains, and I think that they've evolved now enough that they're starting to generate some momentum forward that they didn't have before.”

Debra Inkhart Dragoo's studio space displays her work April 25 for visitors on Madjax's second floor artist community space. Dragoo's studio is included in her contract as curator and coordinator for Madjax artists. Rylan Capper, DN

Shaping Place

One artist-in-residence who helped relieve some of Madjax’s growing pains is Tom Steiner, a retired freelance woodworker. According to its website, Madjax offers operating space for its artists-in-residence with hopes they will have the opportunity to experiment and learn new things about their various crafts and be able to teach other people.

Steiner was the first maker to move into the Cintas building’s garage in 2016, where Ball State’s College of Architecture and Planning (CAP) also has studio space. Steiner said he personally cleared out piles of scrap leftover from Cintas to make his own space.

“This was all industrial, and they’ve made great changes,” he said. “I was made an artist-in-residence, and that’s fine with me — I like to share what I’m doing and what I’ve learned. I don’t know if I’m good at it, but it was something that was mentioned one time, and that was pretty much how it happened.”

As an artist-in-residence, Steiner plans classes to teach others woodworking basics and also tries to increase Madjax’s outreach by spending time with children and students in Pink Leaf: A Learning Company and Youth Opportunity Center programs. He estimated he spends about 30 hours a week in Madjax between his own projects, collaborations and keeping the building’s vending machines stocked.

“It’s nice because they appreciate me being here,” Steiner said. “In return, I do the classes and things like that, and I’m also around if people need something made or fixed. If it’s anything to do with wood, it’s me they call.”

Tom Steiner, Madjax artist-in-residence and freelance woodworker, helps teach basic woodworking skills in Madjax. Steiner teaches woodworking classes in Maker Monday programs, and has also shared coffee-brewing tips from his time as a coffee shop owner. Madjax, Photo Courtesy

Steiner has helped build replacement parts that Book Arts Collaborative and Tribune Showprint needed for their presses and has collaborated with Claywood Pottery to build wooden lids for clay pots and jars. Because Steiner and CAP classes share the garage space, he said they each learn from each other.

“If they need me to show them something, or I need to have them show me something, it’s a wonderful, open relationship,” he said. “It’s a really cooperative place here. Everybody’s here to help everybody.”

One of his favorite aspects of Madjax, Steiner said, is communicating with fellow artists about their work and hopes for the future. He hopes to spread that inspiration to visitors and students in Madjax and help others find fulfillment in creating things.

“[At Madjax], I have 24-hour access [and] I can make a mess and my wife doesn’t complain,” he said. “Woodshop’s my solace — I get behind those doors and the world pretty much disappears.”

Steiner said his solace was heightened in Madjax when COVID-19 was first declared a pandemic. Though it was a scary time amid a plethora of unknowns, returning to the craft he enjoyed gave him peace. He also said he didn’t have to worry about bothering other makers because he was one of the only people in the makerspace. However, now that events are returning and makers are socializing with each other again, Steiner said he is excited for the potential Madjax still holds.

Like Dragoo, Steiner hopes for additional involvement with children and teenagers, possibly through outreach programs with the YMCA or Boys and Girls Clubs of Muncie. 

“Everybody should make something at least once in their life, whether it’s a birdhouse or turn[ing] a clay pot or something,” he said. “It’s something that I think you would find fulfilling, something you would find peaceful, and maybe a lot of fun.”

Ellery said Madjax will continue to evolve based on who is in the building and which artists are creating space to experiment with new ideas.

“We just want to make sure that we’re creating a space where people have opportunities to grow in ways that they wouldn’t be able to in their garage, or at home, or in a traditional learning environment,” Ellery said. “My goal for Madjax is to really be a space where the people here create a place, and in placemaking, they make an emotional connection.”

Though many artists and makers have found success in Madjax, Ellery said she hopes financial success isn’t the main motivator for people in Madjax. Drawing inspiration from famous artist Bob Ross, Ellery said she wants “a lot of happy accidents to take place here in this building, and we’ll go from there.”

Contact Grace McCormick with comments at or on Twitter @graceMc564.


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