We had the good fortune of connecting with Gabriella Mooney and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Gabriella, what do you attribute your success to?
Our community. Hands down the community of members, apprentices, instructors, artisans and supporters are the reason we exist and thrive. A strong community culture is something that has always driven the mission of our organization. Walking into a mostly white male dominated industry can be very intimidating. Our community has worked and will continue to work to reach all types of people. People who might have been told they weren’t welcome, or just felt unwelcome because there was no one that they related to in the space. It warms my heart to hear people say that they were recommended to MASS Collective because they heard we were such an inclusive and welcoming place. Our work in this area will never be done, but the strength of our community to continue to work hard and learn is our biggest factor for success.

Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
My journey to where I am today has taken quite a few detours. I’ve been a baker, a hairstylist, a preschool teacher, a nanny, a door to door salesman for the AJC, a restaurant maitre d, a professional organizer and even a filing specialist at a hospital. I’ve always considered myself a creative person, but I’ve leaned pretty heavily toward the more operations style jobs. It wasn’t until I found MASS Collective that I felt like I could marry those two passions. MASS Collective started in 2012 when a group of friends saw a gap in the needs of artists; where do artists, makers, fabricators and new graduates go to have access to professional equipment and training they can’t afford on their own? Makerspaces were not a new concept, but there were only a few in Atlanta. What began as an idea- grew over the next 9 years into a 7,000 sq ft space equipped with professional equipment, ongoing training and education, an apprenticeship program and a community that I think is unmatched. We keep our memberships affordable and our hours accessible so the resources can be available to anyone. In 2012 , I worked alongside the original founding members to get our current space habitable. Over the next few years I came in and out as a supporter, as my ex-husband is one of the founding members, and watched the community grow and adapt to meet the needs they saw in the arts community. MASS started with no money and just a group of dedicated people who believed the mission was worth pursuing. In 2016 I was asked by Mike and Ryan to come on to help mitigate burn-out in the founding members, who were also pursuing their own careers in fabrication and the like. As I started to work in the space part-time, it became clear to me that this was a career I wanted to pursue and a community I wanted to grow. I’ve always been passionate about education, but once my son was born in 2017, the idea of having a space like MASS Collective exist and helping it thrive through its mission became even more important to me. In 2018, I went self-employed full time and took MASS on as the Director of Operations. In 2020 I was excited to come on as the Executive Director as we made some big changes. Over the last 5 years we have worked extremely hard to upgrade our shop, expand our education program and provide more resources and training through our apprenticeship program. I think the biggest thing that really sets us apart is our continued work toward inclusion and valuing the arts with our money. Was it a conscious choice? To some extent. But mostly what I’ve learned is that the culture of your business and your community comes from the top down. The years of terrible bosses with dysfunctional cultures and abusive relationships with their staff showed me ALL the things I would never want to be as a boss and a leader. We work incredibly hard to value everyone from our apprentices to our educators. We do our best to be a collaborative community that is open to suggestion, correction and improvement while leaving our ego at the door. I personally want everyone who is working with us to enjoy the work they do and work closely to ensure that no one is stuck in a position that doesn’t make them excited to come to MASS. In the last year we made a big leap and decided to move our business to a non-profit model. In order to maintain the biggest part of our mission, accessibility, we knew we would need to tap in to the many grants available to us as well as ask our community for support. We are now launching a new board of directors, an ongoing fundraiser, expanding our education and apprenticeship programs and upgrading to professional grade finishing equipment for our members. We are searching for other nonprofits and groups in the area that we can partner with to align missions and provide resources, support and hands on help. In recent years, I have felt like we are truly working toward becoming an essential resource to the art community and a safe space for everyone. It warms my heart to hear people say they were referred to MASS Collective because we are a woman run and powered makerspace that is safe and inclusive for all types of people. Our work will never be done, and we will be constantly adapting and learning and adjusting to meet the needs of our community and the expanding global community. For me- that’s part of the fun; the unsolvable ever changing puzzle to solve. Being a single mom with a small business of my own and a growing non-profit to run has so many challenges. I am fortunate that being self employed allows me to bring my son with me, and having him work with me has taught him valuable lessons about community and hard work, while making him an incredibly adaptable kid. Some days I am so tired I can barely think, but I end every day proud of the hard work we are doing, happy to be a part of such a wonderful community of people that bring such joy and laughter and creativity into my every day. Do I sound like a proud mom? Probably. I am so incredibly proud of all of our members and every staff member and educator and person who takes a class. The joy on someone’s face as they tackle a new skill or finish a project they’ve worked tirelessly to complete is a magic I have been searching for my whole life. So I’m inviting you- to come be a part of the magic and steal just a tiny bit of that joy for yourself.

Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I would first take them to one of my favorite local Italian spots- A Mano in Old Fourth Ward. Then we would walk through Old Fourth Ward Park to the skate park, stopping at New Realm for a beer on their rooftop. One of my favorite family places to eat is Jen Chan’s in Cabbagetown so I’d book their One Table experience. I’ve literally never had anything to eat there that wasn’t stellar. We’d definitely visit my favorite coffee shop Taproom in Kirkwood and walk to Happy Mango nearby to shop local. In my opinion Phnewfaula, the owner, is one of the best curators of eco-friendly mom and kid fare in the Southeast. And a trip to Atlanta is never complete with a night of debauchery. For me that usually starts with being indulgent and eating at the bar at Wonderkid then catching an lyft to the Basement for my favorite dance party in the city- Nonsense with Kimber. And of course a night in Atlanta is never complete without a late night trip to Waffle House.

The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
MASS Collective was built on the backs of some very dedicated and hardworking individuals. All of our founding members: Kyle Howser, Ryan Metzler, Mike Mooney, Jay Caudle, Luciano Giarrano, Jessica Collins, Chris Carter, Jack Bloom, Isaac Thomas and Duncan Shirah. My incredible team on our new board of directors: Delia Lopez, Kyle Lucy, Doran Hickey and Abby Bleakney. Our benevolent landlords for the last 8 years- Hallister Foster Development and Anthony Harper. And every single member, apprentice and instructor that has joined our community and helped us build it.

Website: masscollective.org

Instagram: instagram.com/masscollective

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MasscollectiveSocial

Image Credits
Jonas Jenkins, Laura Stone, Kaylin Gilstrap

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