3 Creativity Nonprofits Join Forces

Three Southern California nonprofits with a global reach in STEAM and maker creativity have merged. LA Makerspace and Imagination.org have joined forces with Two Bit Circus Foundation. All are focused on helping students gain access to science, technology, engineering, art and math in creative ways.

LA Makerspace runs hands-on workshops with kids, ages 7 to 14, featuring robotics, coding, e-textiles and stop-motion animation in library branches all over Los Angeles County! The workshops also help train the librarians so they can lead their own workshops afterwards.

Imagination.org is best known for its "cardboard challenge," spurred in 2012 when filmmaker Nirvan Mullick met Caine Monroy, a nine-year-old who had created his own cardboard arcade inside his dad's East LA auto parts store. Mullick made a short film, "Caine's Arcade," about Monroy and his creation that has been viewed some eight million times and a follow-up that has had two million views. Money poured in to set up a college account for Monroy, who will shortly be heading to the University of Southern California to pursue a degree in game design. In his wake, he has left behind an organization that supports more than a hundred chapters in schools and other places for weekly "creative play."

TwoBitCircus.org focuses on educational efforts using castoff material from hundreds of manufacturers to help students do STEAM activities, including carnivals, labs and parties. The organization also delivers professional development. According to the nonprofit, it currently operates in almost half the schools of the Los Angeles Unified School District and has trained more than 5,000 teachers.

Under the new structure, the groups hope to reduce overhead administration and broaden their program offerings. For example, through the merger, LA Makerspace said it expected to be able to offer more to local libraries, like tailored Imagination Chapters, and expand their program reach into schools in this country and internationally — with access to affordable, repurposed materials through Two Bit Circus. And Two Bit recently held its first STEAM carnival in Perth, Australia with the help of Imagination.org. Two Bit also hopes to persuade Monroy to serve as president of their first "junior board."

"By coming together, we're increasing efficiency while also expanding our impact on the next generation," said Leah Hanes, executive director of Two Bit Circus, in a statement. "Joining with LA Makerspace allows us to reach kids through local libraries as well as schools, and Imagination.Org expands that reach worldwide. I'm very excited to see what we can do with each other's support."

"Los Angeles is made up of diverse neighborhoods, cultures, and ideas that can feel very isolated from each other," noted Tara "Tiger" Brown, technologist and LA Makerspace co-founder. "Learning and making through shared interests connects kids and their communities together in a way that celebrates those differences and helps them discover their similarities. Joining forces with Two Bit expands LA Makerspace's ability to reach kids through the libraries, schools and other institutions acting as community nodes across the county and beyond."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.