Supporting the Maker Ecosystem in the Midst of a Changing Landscape
Nation of Makers is a national nonprofit with a mission to “support America’s maker organizations through community building, resource sharing, and advocacy, within the maker movement and beyond.” One week before our annual convening of maker leaders, NOMCON, we received news that no one wanted to hear — that our friends and colleagues at Maker Media had laid off all staff and ceased operations. It’s not the news we expected to, or certainly wanted to hear, and this sudden loss, coupled with prior changes in our community landscape, made me pause to think more deeply about our mission.
What does it mean to support maker organizations?
It starts with our community, thousands of maker organizations that are helping the maker movement grow and thrive, having impacts on our communities, local and global — on education, manufacturing, workforce, economic development, entrepreneurship, small business, defense, food, health, design, art, architecture, and so much more. When one of us falls, whether large or small, we all feel it. Today, we feel a deep pain and sadness for our community members who are the amazing employees of Maker Media. We are beyond grateful for each of you and the contributions you have made to the world with your passion, and are sad to hear the news. As a community, OUR Nation of Makers, we stand with you, as we all continue to do what makers do best — thrive in spite of setbacks, support one another with respect and love, share our collective knowledge and resources, and forge forward, continuing to advocate for and show the incredible impacts that our collective work has on communities, small and large, around the world. We will come together in a week, at our annual convening of maker leadership, and, similar to what we’ve done in the past, we’ll rally together, fostering community, sharing insights, best practices and resources, and working together to discuss and shape our impact on the world for the years to come.
So to those who ask the inevitable question — “Is it the end of the maker movement?”, my answer remains a resounding no. In fact, in some communities, we might just be getting started. We, like any ecosystem, continue to change and evolve. We may have setbacks, losses, and our populations may change, but the reality is that over the last 10 years, the number of makerspaces and maker organizations has grown exponentially. While these spaces were once only in well-resourced affluent communities, our latest count on the Atlas of Innovation has noted approximately 2000 maker and innovation spaces in the US and approximately 6000 makerspaces globally, and that doesn’t include many of the numerous makerspaces in schools and libraries (this information will be added to the Atlas in the coming months). Similarly, the number of maker events (including local, independently-produced licensed Maker Faires) has also exponentially increased, now boasting 100s of independently-produced Maker Faires and 100s of maker events in communities and schools around the world (as a note, Make founder and CEO, Dale Dougherty, has indicated that the organization intends to keep the licensing program alive so that the independent Faires can continue).
Ok, so we make things in lots of places and show them off — great.
But it goes well beyond just making THINGS. Makers make IMPACT. Makers change lives.
Around the world, maker organizations are mobilizing to have impacts on education, manufacturing, our workforce, health, and beyond.
You can thank the thriving maker movement for the radical transformation of education, from sage on the stage teaching techniques to engaging project-based learning, teaching 21st century skills that will produce the leaders and innovators of tomorrow.
You can thank the thriving and growing maker movement for advances in manufacturing technologies that allow for more nimble and economical manufacturing practices.
You can thank the maker movement for changing the way we think about workforce training and preparation — producing sites that allow for a wide breadth of skill acquisition, just in time, for both first time and returning students alike. In fact, this new approach to just in time training has garnered so much interest that the U.S. Small Business Administration has just funded a $1 million prize competition to help makerspaces train the workforce of tomorrow.
You can thank the maker movement for daring, out-the-box innovation in health, where makers are doing everything from coming up with ways to make low-cost crowdsourced prosthetics and open source innovations, to co-creating assistive technologies that bring a new sense of freedom and opportunity to individuals of all abilities.
I could go on and on. Makers, as a group, are not only growing, but we’ve been here since the beginning — all of us, from every region, culture, and background. The maker movement isn’t just one of us, it’s all of us. Indeed, the most innate thing we do as humans, is make, create, iterate, and do it all over again — to improve our lives, our communities, our societies, and our world. One of the greatest accomplishments of Maker Media may have been to remind us that we are, in fact, all makers — that inside all of us, we have the capacity to make a future world that we can all be proud of. And I believe collectively, we’ll continue to have our greatest impact.
So is it the end?
Well, not unless the human species is ending.
After all, in a world where there are so many problems to solve, makers gonna make solutions.