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MOONLIGHTER FABLAB – A CREATORS’ HUB ON MIAMI BEACH

Written By Josie Gulliksen
July 6, 2023 at 3:15 PM

Moonlighter FabLab in Miami Beach, located on the ground floor retail space of the New World Symphony Parking Garage. Photo courtesy Moonlighter FabLab.

First opened in 2015 in Wynwood, Moonlighter FabLab was founded by husband and wife team Tom Pupo and Daisy Nodal. In February, they moved to Pennsylvania Avenue on Miami Beach, just across the street from the Convention Center. The decision to relocate was motivated by two main factors: securing a more spacious location and establishing partnerships with local schools and cultural organizations. These driving forces prompted them to seek a new space that would accommodate their needs while fostering collaboration within the community.

“We needed a much larger space than what we had in Wynwood, and we were also looking to partner with the city,” said Pupo. The new larger space and proximity to Miami Beach’s City Hall helped both of those happen.

They’re an all-encompassing creative space described on their website as “a membership-based digital fabrication lab, creative collaboration and learning space, and an arts + design exhibition venue that features and supports local designers.”

The Fabrication Lab features a range of power tools and digital manufacturing equipment like laser cutters, CNC, and ceramic 3D Printing. Photo courtesy Moonlighter FabLab.

Moonlighter’s annual flagship event Maker Faire Miami began in 2013 and since then has convened over 35,000 makers from the community and around the world to share their projects and get inspired to build new ideas. They’ve been part of and collaborated on a host of social impact projects throughout South Florida including at Aventura Mall, Brickell City Centre, The Underline, Downtown Miami at Frost Science and Miami Dade College, North Beach, and Opa-Locka. Click here to learn about all their projects. https://moonlighterfablab.org/projects/

“We provide educational programming at the Moonlighter space in Miami Beach, as well as on-site at schools and other community spaces,” Pupo said. “Daisy has created a range of STEAM curricula from elementary to the University level, I handle the grant writing, fabrication, and membership services, and Mario Cruz mentors students and startups and is the lead producer of the Annual Maker Faire Miami event,” said Pupo. “We also have a pool of volunteers that help with our community outreach as well as Summer and year-long internship programs for high school and collegiate students.”

STEAM labs are offered both on and off the Moonlighter campus – going into local schools to introduce innovation to students. Image courtesy Moonlighter FabLab.

Pupo and Nodal are presenting Moonlighter FabLab as a cultural institution deeply rooted within the local community. It serves as a dedicated space for learning, collaborating, and showcasing innovative projects. Their goal is to provide access to the skills, tools, and space for creatives to innovate “and to accomplish this, we need buy-in from local government, foundations, private donors, and the whole community. It takes a public-private collaborative approach to make this happen,” said Pupo, modeling their space after other successful large-scale cultural maker spaces like OpenWorks in Maryland and MHub in Chicago.

While in Wynwood, they realized that these types of spaces could provide so much more – but require space and investment to make it happen. Following a visit from the City of Miami Beach Commissioner Ricky Arriola to their Wynwood space, the conversation of making that happen began.

“Our space fell in line with a lot of the City’s immediate priorities, especially the S.T.E.A.M. educational programming. It positions the city as a family-friendly place, and a creative hub where ideas can be created – not just consumed,” Pupo said.

After some delays from the pandemic, the new space opened in February 2023 with a ribbon-cutting event celebrated by Mayor Dan Gelber, all the Miami Beach Commissioners, and hundreds of local creatives.

“The Jorge M. Pérez Family Foundation CreArte grant was also a critical component that helped provide funding for the initial build out of the space,” said Pupo.

CreArte was a relatively new grant program managed by The Miami Foundation with a mission to support programs and organizations focused on arts and culture, education, the environment, and economic development – all areas where Moonlighter provides services to the community.

Their year-long school partnerships allow them to work with the faculty and students to provide high-quality STEAM programs as well as deliver professional development to the faculty and help the schools build and sustain maker education programs at each site.

Startups and professionals can get a studio membership for their own dedicated desk and storage as well as access to the entire fabrication lab. Image courtesy of Moonlighter FabLab.

Moonlighter is an all-inclusive space offering:
● Membership to access the Fabrication Lab
● Dedicated Workspaces & Studios (includes FabLab Membership)
● Maker’s Sandbox: a STEAM Learning Center for workshops and youth programs which is also…
○ An event space for meetups, talks, and other community events.
○ A platform for local creatives to serve as teaching artists for community workshops
○ A host site for Creative Mornings Miami
● Phase Gallery – Focused on highlighting the intersection of technology and art + design (Current Exhibition: RAW.CUT: The Laser Cut Art of Neil Paterson)
● Community Builds – Projects they build with students and members
They have about a dozen creative studios available and as far as membership goes, there is availability for a couple of hundred people to have access to the main fabrication space. It allows people to access the space at different times.

● Pupo says their basic membership works like a gym, where you have access to the machines including a range of 3D printers, laser cutters, CNC machines, power tools, circuitry, electronic equipment, sewing machines, and more. Click here for a complete list of all their available equipment. https://moonlighterfablab.org/equipment/

“We’re part of the Fab Foundation network – each one of these FabLabs has to have a specific range of advanced manufacturing tools. Founded by professors at the MIT Media Lab, this nonprofit FabLab network provides a template for independently operated FabLabs around the world, like ours,” said Pupo.

Pupo and Nodal discovered maker spaces in Europe after traveling there for their graduate school study abroad program. They loved the democratized access to the tools of creation and community culture of making “so when we came back home, we visited Makerspaces here in the US to do some research on the different kinds of these spaces, and it became our mission to build one in our hometown. This is the kind of space that cities need to provide their citizens the opportunity to build a better future.”

Their most recent collaboration is serving as the 2023 host for monthly CreativeMornings Miami breakfasts, something Pupo and the CreativeMornings hosts Malik Benjamin and David Verjano are equally excited about.

Benjamin originally connected with Pupo and Nodal when they were students at Florida International University. “I was a professor and administrator at FIU and at that time – over a decade ago – Moonlighter and CreativeMornings Miami were visions in our minds and now today both are a reality,” Benjamin said.

Then in 2022, Benjamin and Pupo were discussing “what we thought Miami needed right now and because we love experiments, we decided to partner on this event series,” said Benjamin.

Moonlighter became the CreativeMornings’ dedicated venue on May 5, 2023, with Evan Snow as the speaker. Verjano said “This partnership gives us a consistent space to re-introduce ourselves to Miami’s creative community. We love that Moonlighter is designed for makers, equipped with tools to create something in the physical world.”

Pupo, who says he was always eager to be at CreativeMornings each month to hear inspiring stories and meet other local creatives, echoes that sentiment.

“We are so honored to host the event at our space now and are grateful to the CM team for their efforts to bring back the in-person CreativeMornings events. We’re looking forward to having these each month at Moonlighter FabLab,” he said. “Now more than ever, people need to connect and CreativeMornings is a perfect opportunity for locals to share their inspirations, challenges, and the realities of creative work.”

The CreativeMornings event series also fits well with their other offerings – membership-based access to a Digital Fabrication Lab, creative coworking studios, workshops, and their Phase Gallery which Pupo says “showcases the work of local innovators leveraging technology in novel ways to create cutting edge work.”

That kind of cutting edge innovation will be on full display on July 7th. Featured speaker Andrea Gellatly will not only grace the CreativeMornings stage, but will also host robotics workshops for the community in Moonlighter FabLab’s STEAM learning center and debut her BattleBots exhibition at the Phase Gallery. A full circle moment.

Learn everything there is to know about Moonlighter FabLab at their website moonlighterfablab.org

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