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Access Space

If you go down to the town today, you're in for a big surprise, at least in certain areas. Walk to the end of the Workstation. Don't cross the road into the Rutland pub, but go through the door of a building with very quirky bars on the windows. This is Access Space, and there isn't much like it anywhere else in this country. It calls itself a free, open-source arts and media lab. If you usually run a mile from anything called arts, drop your expectations at the door. They mean participatory art - anyone can do it, even you if you like. Here you're more likely to find a Big Issue seller than a pretentious artiste discussing paleo-postmodernism. This is Sheffield - we don't do posh, we do fun. At first sight the main room is like an internet cafe jumbled into an art gallery. The back room is even stranger. It's a friendly place to drop in for a free cuppa and a chat, in a world where everything else seems designed to make a profit out of you. And you can discuss paleo-postmodernism if you like, probably with a Big Issue seller, a retired lecturer or a jobless genius. The main activity here is digital, but there's not a mention of Microsoft or Apple. The techie volunteers are evangelical about Linux software. Now super-improved through its 'crowd sourcing' development, there's nothing that over-bloated commercial programs can do better than Linux. Except rip you off, because this is totally free, with free upgrades - forever. In fact, even the computers themselves cost nothing, because they're all donated, second hand, rebuilt and in full working order. If you want one, they'll give you a hand to build one you can take home with you. Access Space is keen to turn people from passive consumers into active producers. If you've got a project in mind, from an animation to a campaign, a website to an event, come and have a word. This place really doesn't fit into any pattern. Did I mention the live events? The last one was a noise gig with live light-to-sound conversion. And there was Dorkbot, a meeting of people doing strange things with electricity. Next up, on Saturday 16th July from midday to midnight, the space plays host to Sheffield Placard Headphone Festival 2011, an international streamed headphone festival running since 1998. Performers are lining up for 20-minute slots, with some big local names pencilled in. Access Space functions as a recycling point for tech equipment and for people's experience of digital possibilities, but again that's not all. The next plan is making real things in a so-called 'DIY Fab Lab' (short for fabrication laboratory). The idea is a sort of people's factory, to let you design and build whatever you like. Tinkerers welcome. Dreamers and visionaries come on in. Self-replicating robots? Not here ... oh, wait a minute, they're working on one with a laser cutter made from spare parts. Like every other organisation, there's a price to pay, as the government shifts our money from community resources into bankers' back pockets. Friends of Access Space is a supportive group determined to keep this one going, and they'd welcome any ideas and enquiries of a fundraising nature, because like a good deed in a naughty world, Access Space is a bit unique. Something else for Sheffield to be proud of. Get down there and have a look round. alt-sheff.org.uk access-space.org lurk.org/placard )

Next article in issue 40

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