Shortly before Mike and Maggie Meiners’ wedding, the soon-to-be bride left for a trip to Europe. A visit to a photography exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London made Maggie, then a middle school teacher, reconsider her path. “I had a physical reaction and realized I needed to listen to that,” says Maggie. She returned home and told Mike, who encouraged the pursuit. “Seeing people achieve things that have deep meaning for them,” as he defines it, is where his own career would find fulfillment. As it turned out, Maggie’s shift precipitated Mike’s move, and the start of a marriage sustaining artistic and professional endeavors for each other and a community.
Mike grew up in Michigan, attended college and graduate school in Chicago, and developed a background in acting, filmmaking, and even furniture design, for which he once won a Design Within Reach competition for a stackable stool and table. Maggie was raised on the North Shore, majored in anthropology, and now presents her photographs in local galleries with several works in private collections. Together, they have recently moved to Winnetka to raise their two young sons.
“I come from a family of entrepreneurs where I learned that you have ideas and get them done,” shares Mike. It’s a lesson instilled in the Meiners’ household today where Mike and Maggie’s boys are currently in the process of renovating a basement. “It’s up to them to make the room how they want to use it,” says Maggie. “They’re painting walls and building a couch.” The only requirement, adds Mike, is that “each day they set aside time to work on it, sometimes before or after school, and they will decide when it is done and ready to enjoy.” This kid-tested and parent-approved model is also in production outside of their home.
A co-founder of Hackstudio in Evanston, Mike and his business partner Randy Blaugh, operate a place where children and adults go for mentorship and training to: “Dream. Connect. Commit. Get Done.” There is a woodshop area, computers, and lots of seating for group meetings to discuss how the tasks selected by participants will be accomplished. The concept, Mike cautions, “Is not therapy, it’s just humanity,” where people work and share in their successes and failures in assembling everything from water skis to stuffed animals. “They decide what they want to do,” says Mike, and “figure out how to source materials, manage the trial and error, and develop the ability to transition on the fly, if needed.”
Another recent Evanston development is the opening of Maggie’s studio, along with fellow photographer Justine Bianco. Additionally, the space has an adjoining area called Platform, a venue for artist lectures, shows, and to simply gather and talk. A major part of Maggie’s work is what she terms “cultural literacy” that considers different time periods and traditions. Themes have included colorful abstract images in “Childhood Contemplations,” and sophisticated modern scenes inspired by Saturday Evening Post classics in “Revisiting Rockwell.” “Personal growth plays out in photography,” says Maggie, and capturing that evolution is where she aims to focus her lens.
With approximately 100 children and adults currently enrolled at Hackstudio, Mike seems to have re-structured the practice of play into an art itself. That welcome change, particularly in the fast age of technology and immediate gratification, is as inviting as Maggie’s intent for Platform. “I want people to check in weekly or monthly to see what events are happening with the same regularity as they do downtown in Chicago’s gallery district.”
Consistency and support are the foundation of what Mike and Maggie have established, both in brick and mortar and in their union. They are proving that sometimes in life you do get second chances, or thoughts, to make big impressions.
Hackstudio is located at 2510 Green Bay Road in Evanston, 847-868-8565, hackstudio.com.