Refabbing a Flint factoryA second life, a second purpose, a new future being built in Factory Two

FLINT, Michigan—Decked out in gold spandex and warpaint, two figures emerge from the darkness. Jumping around stage and attacking each other in makeshift wooden boxes and a shopping cart, throwing around rabbit skulled Jackalopes and crawling between audience members.

Oh, and there is also a tasting of local craft beer from HopBuds and organic pourover coffee from Wildroot—along with entrepreneurs, dreamers, artists and makers. 

This is Factory Two, a new mixed-use makerspace in Flint. 

Housed at 129 N. Grand Traverse St. in a looming former manufacturing facility built more than 100 years ago by Dort Motor Car Company, this industrial site is the newest option for Flint entrepreneurs and artists. Factory Two is the umbrella facility and entrepreneurial hub situated just north of Tenacity Brewing along Water Street. 

Operated by Red Ink Flint, plans for Factory Two evolved from Steamworks, a smaller makers-space above Local 432. A grand opening is set for May with classes, memberships and additional information to follow.

It is—says Joel Rash, director of Red Ink Flint—“a place for the whole community.”

Think shop class on steroids with a flair for the arts. The makerspace is a place residents in Flint of any skill level can produce and create in a communal environment. Stations and classes will include woodworking, sewing, Adobe Illustrator, basic robotics, screen-printing, and laser cutting tools.

Rash says the hope is to engage different groups of seasoned professionals with younger people interested in learning. 

"We want the retiree furniture maker as well as the local band hoping to make logos, stickers and T-shirts for their next show," Rash says.

It is also a place for performance art, including the piece featuring Spandex and Jackalopes performed by Candice Stewart and Cinthia Montague as part of a recent soft opening for Factory Two. 

“When we started going to performance art installations in Detroit, we really liked what we saw and wanted to bring that here to Flint,” Stewart says.

As Megan Stewart (no relation to Candice) adjusts Thomas Kladis's skirt before his performance, she looks out at the expansive building and sees growth and opportunity. Megan Stewart is an executive assistant at C3 Ventures in Flint—a booming engineering, manufacturing, and sustainable energy company—and a dedicated art enthusiast who follows Flint’s underground culture.

“I think this will be another move in the right direction toward changing negative opinions about Flint,” Stewart says. “The artists in this community are so inspiring and supportive.”

Kladis, aka Mike Butt aka Tommy Chu, is the first act up during the soft launch performance. The DJ dons a skirt, nylons and pink sweater and explains that his identity changes along with his art. Then, he launches into a face-melting, spoken word and rap set—entrancing the audience, which exploded into cheers that echoed around the hall.

Kladis, originally from the Chicago area, moved to Flint after graduating from Michigan State University in 2015. He helped his uncle, local attorney Dean Yeotis, open Totem Books—and then … stayed. 

“It really did just take me one year to find some of the most creative people I’ve ever met, here in Flint,” Kladis said. “I feel I have to defend my choice (to move to Flint) to other people ...  and there’s just a major misunderstanding right there.”

As a rapper, drummer and DJ, Kladis says the mixed media show and possibilities for craftsmanship at Factory Two are an opportunity for artists to reach audiences and develop their work in a way they might not have in larger cities. 

“You find many people in these ‘cool or hip’ places not doing anything to really get involved,” he says. “Right now, I’m trying to identify what community and experience I want to represent, and Flint is a prime spot to do that, to figure it out, where you can live a little cheaper and focus on your art.”

Kladis believes others would find it exciting to be on the ground floor of the art community in the city. He sees the local arts scene moving and growing—especially with the addition of Factory Two, where exploration and experimentation are welcomed.

“It took me a very short time to dig-in and get involved, and spaces like this will expand on that,” Kladis says.

Read more articles by Jake Carah.