Atticus Wolf of m0xy in front a wall of prototype face shields designed by the studio. Photo: Pete Rosos

Everything is bigger at m0xy, an industrial-arts incubator and maker-space in Oakland’s Jingletown neighborhood. A 3,500-pound roll of plastic, weighing as much as a car, greets visitors at the door. In a corner of the 24,000 square-foot warehouse, another plastic roll can be spun with an oversized wheel that looks like it was used to steer a pirate ship. And now, an industrial-scale laser cutter once used to manufacture massive sculptures for Burning Man has been repurposed to mass-produce plastic face shields.

Since March 16, when county authorities issued the first shelter-in-place order, the team at m0xy devoted their machines and operations entirely to the production of personal protective equipment (PPE). They’ve made 20,000 face shields, which protect healthcare workers against particle spray from patients infected with COVID-19. They can make 100,000 more next month. They’ve sent donations to public hospitals in the Bay Area, including Alameda Health, Laguna Honda, and San Francisco General, and to hospitals in New York.

Though this product is new for m0xy, the do-it-yourself spirit of collective innovation is not. To pull off this effort, founder and executive director Atticus Wolf did what he always does: he pulled together an eclectic network of artists, engineers, techies and volunteers, and rolled up his sleeves. Fourteen people make up m0xy’s core team, but Wolf estimates they’re collaborating with over 700 individuals across the Bay Area.

Atticus (right) and volunteer Kevin (left) place a sheet of plexiglass onto the work surface of a laser cutter. Photo: Pete Rosos

“They are the poster child for the kind of resourcefulness and initiative that artists are embodying during this crisis,” Kathryn Reasoner, an executive consultant with Vital Arts, said about m0xy. Vital Arts partners with Bay Area artist communities by providing access to funding and expertise, and advocates for policies that help prevent their displacement. Impressed by m0xy’s vision, Vital Arts recently granted the organization a $36,000 loan.

“Artists are often at the forefront of this kind of work because of their ingenuity. Most people don’t have the ability to work with their hands the way they once did. Artists and manufacturers still do. And they know each other,” Reasoner said.

M0xy is one of the last strongholds of industrial-scale maker-spaces in Oakland, providing affordable studio space and access to tools as well as mentorship for emerging artists to develop small businesses. Its 20 studios are home to sculptors, metal fabricators, muralists, jewelers, and puzzle makers. Wolf said m0xy melds self-reliance and individualistic endeavors with a collective spirit.

The organization is among a dwindling number of such collectives in the Bay Area and country. The rising cost of real estate has driven artist collectives away from Oakland and other urban centers in recent years. NIMBY, a similar arts collective that started in Oakland in 2004, faced a massive rent hike last year and moved to Doyle, a small California town closer to Burning Man.

Audrey, a volunteer, polishes some plexiglass while Atticus stacks some finished shields. Photo: Pete Rosos

The 2016 Ghost Ship fire, which killed 36 people, cast a long shadow over Oakland’s artist community, increasing pressures on warehouse spaces to close or relocate.

“It would be hard to find a person who didn’t know someone who died from Ghost Ship,” said Jason Strader, m0xy’s accountant. In addition to the pain of losing loved ones, the backlash against warehouse artist spaces has been intense. “We’re one of the last places like this across the country,” Wolf said.

“Since the fire, maker spaces have been made much safer. They’re also more expensive. In some ways, they’ve become the playground of those with money in tech,” Strader said.

M0xy has persisted in an environment they describe as hostile to artist communities, but not without setbacks. A fire that started in the woodshop in August 2019 consumed nine of m0xy’s workshops, a gallery, and all of its offices, and killed a warehouse cat.

“It radically changed our lives,” Wolf said. M0xy was finally getting back on its feet when the shelter-in-place order was issued.

As a result of the order, festival season, a major source of income for m0xy artists, was canceled: virtually all of the artists had to shut down their businesses. Then, Wolf saw a 3D-printed face mask for the first time, and a lightbulb went off. Wolf kicked into high gear, starting with an open-source design he found online.

Now, 12 face shields hanging on the wall of one studio commemorate the prototypes they tested. One shield is bedazzled. Another has a 3D-printed component, though the makers abandoned 3D printing when they realized the process was too slow. The prototypes have grown more durable and leaner over time. Now, the face shield requires just one piece of plastic.

“We’ve never made so many of one thing,” Strader said. “Normally, we make custom art pieces. It’s been interesting to see revisions happen so quickly.”

Finished face shields await packaging while volunteer Audrey polishes more plexiglass. Photo: Pete Rosos

Creating and donating the shields has been a collaborative effort. Wolf found the original templates. M0xy volunteer Kevin Bacon tinkered with the prototypes, and volunteer Carl Dietrich tested the designs on the machine. Dietrich also figured out a way to transport the donated 3,500 lb roll of plastic from his U-Haul to the warehouse by hoisting it onto a carpet roller, with help from Straus Carpets across the street. Another team cleans newly minted masks on a table specifically fabricated to handle this type of plastic. Collaborators like Shelly Wong and Alex Chan from a new organization called It Takes a Village offer guidance and help distribute donations.

At m0xy, collaboration breeds innovation, regardless of the product. “When you’re around other people making art, it challenges you to get better at what you’re doing,” Reasoner said. “You don’t do this alone. You build your community up by helping each other.”

“This PPE effort is a testament to why maker spaces like this are a necessity, not a luxury,” Wolf said.

Ally Markovich, who covers the school beat for Berkeleyside, is a former high school English teacher. Her work has appeared in The Oaklandside, The New York Times, Huffington Post and Washington Post,...