Ashton Hauff thought the Makewell event she and some friends put together for creatives in the Bismarck community in February 2017 would be a one-time thing. Instead, it was a sold-out-let’s-do-this-again thing.

“I didn’t know what to expect, but it turned out to be an experiment of what happens when we gather the makers,” Ashton explains. “When it was over, people were asking, ‘When’s the next one? Can you do this in my city?’ I wasn’t prepared for that. I knew then, that it wasn’t just me or the team. The community wanted this.”

Makewell is a community of more than 1,000 makers around the Midwest.

“Our mission is to spark ideas and ignite action. We want to empower makers to actually do their ideas,” Ashton says.

The makers are creative individuals who have diverse backgrounds and interests. They include photographers, filmmakers, chefs, and software engineers, and Makewell has sparked much more than action among them. After the success of the first event, Makewell has continued to grow, and now offers ongoing events — retreats, workshops, and a mentorship program — where makers can connect and collaborate.

And, Ashton’s idea that sparked action is award-winning. In April, Makewell received an award at the 2019 North Dakota Governor’s Awards for Travel and Tourism. The Flint Firestarter award “recognizes a new tourism offering that has opened in a downtown district that has the potential to attract visitors and enhance the main street experience by offering improved amenities and sparking future development in the core of a community.”

Or, as Ashton puts it, “We’re loving on the main street and downtown, and those are the people that we hire to do our events.”

She says people come from North and South Dakota, Montana, Minnesota, and Wyoming to attend the Makewell events in Bismarck and Mandan.

Ashton is a brand designer and says she her idea for that first event came out her own experience.

“I went away to college in Minneapolis, and I thought that would be my community, but I kept coming back here each summer and met my future husband here. I knew I would lose some of that community of makers I found there.

“I knew photographers and designers (in Bismarck) — I knew all these types of creative people, but I didn’t know how to meet them. Everyone is wishing they could connect and collaborate. Makewell serves the pain point.”