Every student knows the place to go to grab a quick bite to eat while on campus.
They also know the place to go to catch a free film, shoot some pool, or bowl.
But what they don’t know, is that under their feet, while they enjoy these pastimes, there is a treasure trove of hands-on activities they can take part in.
It may come as a surprise to a lot of students that there is in fact a floor below McDonald’s, Starbucks, and Chick-fil-a.
What may be even more surprising is that floor houses one of the brightest hidden gems of the Southern Illinois University campus.
The Craft Shop.
Often overlooked and passed by, the Craft Shop is a vast resource open to students and residents of the area who are looking to take part in an afternoon activity, while learning a hobby in the process.
The activities available at the Craft Shop are offered in the form of workshops—two to three hour classes held once or twice a week, for a set number of weeks—which can cost anywhere between one to forty five dollars.
The focus of these workshops range from woodworking, ceramics and sewing to even building a solar heater.
Aside from workshops, the craft shop also offers walk-in activities for people looking for a spontaneous evening activity.
With all the Craft Shop has to offer, it may come as a surprise that it has trouble generating a large amount of attention and filling seats at workshops.
Many students, during their time at SIU, are often oblivious to the Craft Shop’s existence and location in the basement of the Student Center.
“The average student has always taken three years to find us,” Craft Shop coordinator, Ron Dunkel, said. “But we’re seeing some brighter students now. I’m seeing more freshman and sophomore students coming in.”
Dunkel has been with the Craft Shop for thirty years. He was hired shortly after graduating from SIU, and he worked his way up to the position of coordinator.
He talked about attendance issues at a stained glass workshop that was offered this fall.
Ten people registered for the workshop, but by the time it began, only half showed up to participate, he said.
Out of the five that showed up, only one was actually a student.
Lack of attendance and awareness are not the only issues facing the Craft Shop either, funding is also a concern.
Dunkel said the Craft Shop’s capacity to provide activities for students and promote itself is limited by the allowance it receives from the Student Center each year.
That allowance comes from a portion of the Student Center fee each student is charged on their bursar every semester, Student Center Director Tena Bennett said.
This raises another issue present in the situation.
Students actively pay fees to support a resource on campus that many do not even know exists. Furthermore, even students among those who do know it exists don’t utilize it.
Bennett said part of the issue was the unideal location the Craft Shop has.
“But you can’t just move it to a more visible space really easily either, just because of the scope that they have down there,” she said, “So we try all different means to continue to market it and push out to students.”
“We’re always open to suggestions on how to get more information out about the Craft Shop,” Bennett added.
Brandi Couch is a student majoring in art at SIU. She feels like the university should step in to solve the Craft Shop’s awareness issues.
“I think the Craft Shop is doing what it can to get the word out. It would be kinda nice if SIU itself made it more obvious,” Couch said.
“When I was signing up for classes here, nobody mentioned the Craft Shop to me, even though my major is art,” she said, “Nobody said, ‘Oh and by the way, in the Student Center there is this wealth of supplies and utilities, and you just show your student ID and you can use this stuff.”
Bennett said the university marketing team doesn’t specifically do any marketing for the Craft Shop, it mainly places that responsibility on the Student Center.
Despite the issues it is facing, coordinator Dunkel expressed his positivity for the future of the Craft Shop.
He said that the Craft Shop is beginning to shift away from being strictly arts and crafts to being utilized as more of a makerspace, where anyone can come to work on anything they want.
“Yesterday we had somebody down here fixing the motherboard on their laptop, using our same soldering tools you would use for stained glass,” he said.
But the small influx of traffic that comes from expanding beyond arts and crafts doesn’t offset the lack of attendance in the workshops that make up the Craft Shop’s core.
Dunkel’s confidence in the Craft Shop’s future is rooted in his high opinion of the space he manages.
“One of the things that we’re looking at is quality of experience, and I think we’re offering top-quality experience,” Dunkel said, “We’re teaching people how to use tools, how to use their hands, and how to think creatively.”
While Dunkel’s outlook may be admirable, the issues the Craft Shop is facing cannot and should not be ignored.
The Craft Shop, the Student Center, and possibly the university need to collaborate and develop a solution or one of the most unique resources on campus may be all but lost.