The Mother of All Maker Faires
The 10th annual Maker Faire Bay Area was an amazing event, an ongoing celebration of making in our culture as well as the emergence of maker culture. Maker Faire Bay Area, which took place May 15–18 in San Mateo, is really the Mother of All Maker Faires — bigger, bolder but just as sweet and charming as ever. It’s taken ten years to perfect and popularize Maker Faire and I am very proud to celebrate its ten-year anniversary. Maker Faire is spreading the Maker Movement around the globe.
As I walk through the grounds of San Mateo Event Center, I see how we have transformed the fairgrounds for a weekend into the world’s most creative, most agile, most innovative city. Unlike any other city, it is one that reflects our collective imagination right now. Its citizens are curious and adventurous — they love to learn and come to play. They are eager to move around, knowing that a surprise awaits them around every corner. Even if they stand in place, the makers will find them as so many are mobile. There are small speeding robots, spider robots that crawl, art cars that putter about, bicycles linked together like sled dogs, motorized Adirondack chairs moving along side wheelchairs, and electric-powered cupcakes weaving in and out of the crowd.
Like any city, there’s lot of commerce, which is a healthy sign. There are sponsors like Intel, HP, DF Robot, Google and the Italian Trade Agency. Our sponsors don’t bring corporate trade show booths. They are there to engage, talking and listening, not just selling. They organize making activities or invite makers to exhibit in their booth. For instance, Google sponsored the learn-to-solder activity and handed out safety glasses. There were demonstrations of tools from laser cutters, 3D printers, CNC cutting machines and mills that are becoming more affordable and accessible.
A lot of what is driving Maker Faire to be more commercial is that makers themselves are creating new products and starting businesses. This includes companies like LittleBits, Particle (formerly Spark), Shaper, LightUp, Roominate, Othermill, and many, many more. There is a fresh new crop of startups every year, many of whom raised money on Kickstarter.
Still, Maker Faire is about open interaction. Makers are interacting with people using technology, materials and tools. They design for interaction and they learn from these interactions with people of all ages. These interactions provide makers with valuable feedback. Such interactions throw off sparks and light up minds. Even the robots are interacting with each other.
Walking around and meeting people, I am filled with a tremendous sense of wonder and awe. How can something so beautiful, so full of artistry and wizardry, so open and diverse, how can it all come together so quickly? I see things I would never see otherwise. How can so many guests show up and wander around so amused and happy? Then suddenly, it comes to an end Sunday night, as quickly as waking from a dream. That is Maker Faire. The end always leaves me wanting more.
On Sunday morning at Maker Faire, Eric Sorensen asked to have me in a picture with his oldest son, Luke, who is 10 years old. Luke came to the first Maker Faire as an infant, and they were headed off to the Young Makers area. Erik sent me the photo with a note: “We love the Maker Faire. We have presented at three and attended all the rest.” It’s wonderful to hear that. I met another Luke, who is a young boy from Cincinnati who has a 3D printed hand that his father learned to make for him. His father called him “Cool Hand Luke.”
Sasha Jaffarove, a high school freshman from the Santa Cruz area, spoke on a panel I hosted featuring young makers. She told us about her love of rocks and caves, and how it led her to build a cave-mapping robot. She spoke with such passion about what she had learned and how she had figured out how to use Raspberry PI and lasers. She had iterated on her design to improve the robot. Her mother wrote us: “I was standing in the audience and all the people were just talking about how impressed they were with the kids! We are so blessed to have found Maker Faire!”
I enjoyed seeing makers that I first met 10 years ago at Maker Faire. One of them was Bruce Shapiro of the Art of Motion Control who considers CNC a medium for artistic expression. Known for the Eggbot, Bruce was wearing the T-shirt we gave out in 2006. This year he brought his classic, Sisyphus, a large circular sand-drawing bot. I watched several young people peering underneath the piece to figure out its mechanism.
All of us have changed over ten years, getting older of course, but there’s still a young child in these makers that has never grown up. I was 50 for the first Maker Faire and I turned 60 during Maker Week. Some people say that I must think of Maker Faire as my birthday party, and certainly I can’t think of anything better — it makes me feel younger and more energized than ever. Moreover, I now have a grandchild, Henry, who came to his first Maker Faire this year and met Russell the Electric Giraffe. I know I see Henry and his own creative development differently than I saw in my own children because of Maker Faire. I see my grandchild as a maker.
The Making of Maker Faire
Ten years ago, Maker Faire was just an idea I had, a dream, a vision, an experiment. I thought makers would enjoy sharing their projects and meeting other makers. I thought everyone would enjoy meeting them and having a conversation with a maker around the things they make. In a nutshell, Maker Faire is The Greatest Show and Tell on Earth. It’s the kind of sharing we experienced at kindergarten but now it’s for everybody.
People ask me if I knew how it would turn out and I say that my focus was first on making it happen, seeing that it came to be and that it was special — and different. We saw an opportunity to re-invent the county fair and mash it up with craft and art fairs but also science fairs. It should reflect the creativity, imagination and skill of ordinary people. Our 10th Annual Maker Faire Bay Area in its size and scope was certainly more than I could have ever imagined.
Maker Faire has two key people, two mothers, if you will. Sherry Huss and Louise Glasgow together really took my idea and made it real. I can think of no greater reward for having an idea than to work with people you can trust to take your idea and make it even better. If Maker Faire were a product, Sherry did the design and prototyping, the packaging and social marketing, the end-user experience; Louise organized the production, bringing all the components together in real time, developing and managing an extremely talented and dedicated production team that has its core crew but also extends broadly to volunteers at the show. In short, they did all the hard work on deadline to make it happen. I’m pretty sure nobody else has developed and produced anything quite like Maker Faire at this scale of complexity, and with such personal care for everyone involved. It has been built layer by layer, link by link over the years, with the intention of making it better each year. It is a massive maker project itself produced by a dedicated team that loves the event. I am ever grateful to Sherry and Louise and every one of the team members who know how much hard work goes on behind the scenes.
Maker Faire has required constant attention and nurturing from its mothers and its family members, yet as they say, “it takes a village.” At Maker Faire, our village is an incredible community of makers — demonstrating all varieties of making, all with reasons of their own for doing what they do, all of them thriving. Our makers come to share what they do and what they know, and that’s the most essential feature of Maker Faire. We give them space, and usually provide tables and chairs, but they bring the creativity, passion and ingenuity that everybody experiences through interaction with them and their things. Makers are the stars of the show. What might not be obvious to everyone though is how the makers help each other and respect each other. Maker Faire is not a competition, but instead encourages cooperation.
All kinds of people comment that Maker Faire has this “vibe”, this feel that is hard to explain but easy to experience for yourself and see in the expressions on people’s faces. Literally, everyone is happy and that includes sponsors, makers, and our guests. Everybody brings their best self to Maker Faire, and indeed, they are creating something together that none of us could do or feel by ourselves. I might sum it up by saying that “we all play well together.” That this vibe continues to flourish ten years in is truly incredible, but not unexpected by me.
One of the highlights this year was the “Make Fashion” show, organized by Shannon and Maria Hoover from Calgary with a group of wearables designers, and developed along with our crew member, John “Parts” Taylor.
It was an incredible, moving experience that created a new genre, using the fashion show model to hack the fashion show and transform who gets to walk down runways and what they are wearing. This show featured fashion for the differently abled, for men and women, as well as for children. Thousands of people watched. To see prosthetic limbs featured as a multi-colored LED fashion statement was to feel joy and compassion. Everything was stunning and I loved seeing the look on the faces of young girls and women in the audience.
Lorna and Jill Watt of KnitsforLife.com, creative designers and yarnbomber artists, created sets of large knitted eyeballs, which were placed in trees on site. There was no sign telling you to look up and see them but if you did, you were surprised and delighted. One person said that he thought that kids are the ones that see the eyes in trees because “kids are always looking around” but adults not as much.
Brian Matthews is an engineer/artist whose website is Flappingsprocket.com. Brian walked around with a 3D printed parrot on his shoulder, which is not the first of its kind I’ve seen at Maker Faire. Yet is through the medium of this parrot that Brian was able to engage and interact with hundreds of people at Maker Faire.
Intel organized the participation of “Thud Rumble” featuring Bay Area-based DJ Qbert, Rich Quitevis and Ritche “Yogafrog” Desuasido. Ritche explained that they were using the Intel Edison board to eliminate the use of laptops by DJs, and replace them with musical instruments. DJ Qbert is a DJ/turntablist who has transformed turntable skratching into “an art by manipulating, and orchestrating beats and vocals to create completely new sounds and songs.” Rich is the technical guru working behind the scenes to integrate technology in ways that transform what’s possible in DJ Skratch culture. Together, the group ended Maker Faire on Sunday with a performance that included manipulating a Tesla coil (created by 19 year old Cam Dax) by turntable skratching to generate music.
A “Mother” for Maker Culture
Maker Faire Bay Area is also the “mother culture” for spreading Maker Faires around the world and promoting the Maker Movement. A mother culture can refer to how we create and propagate a product from a biological culture, such as sourdough starter (which San Francisco is known for, as its early settler brought this with them) or vinegar, both featured in our Homegrown Village. People come to experience Maker Faire Bay Area and bring something back home to help start their own local maker culture. In ten years, Maker Faire has become a global network of events. In 2014, there were 131 Maker Faire and there will be more this year. This week, we announced a new program to promote School Maker Faires. We had over 100 people attend a “How to Make a Maker Faire” workshop last Friday, all from many different countries and different cities in America. We had groups from Canada, UK, France, Hungary, Taiwan, Japan, Luxembourg, China, Germany and other countries. They come to Maker Faire Bay Area to experience this most fully realized Faire, and capture it in their hearts and minds to bring back home. They are spreading “maker culture” everywhere.
Maker culture is spreading into schools, libraries and community centers. The group I met from Hungary wore red t-shirts that read “Maker School Hungary.” One of the schools from the Bay Area, Lighthouse Charter School in Oakland, had its largest presence at Maker Faire. Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy from Goleta CA (near Santa Barbara) brought a large number of students, dressed in black jumpsuits like astronauts or NASCAR drivers. Calling themselves the D’Penguineers, they had built an interactive exhibit called the “Carousel of Physics”, a kinetic sculpture with over 60 different mechanisms. They hope to continue to develop and sell these exhibits to schools and museums. The director of the program, Amir Abo-Shaeer, said that bringing the students and their project to Maker Faire helped them gain recognition for the value of their school and its mission.
We have lots of homeschoolers at Maker Faire. Reagan (13), Carson (11) and Keane (9) Gillespie came with their parents from Anthem AZ who were showing their new kit, CubeRinth, a customizable, multi-level labryinth game that was inspired by their participation in last year’s Maker Camp.
Maker Culture is spreading throughout cities at a grassroots level as the number of makerspaces keeps growing. The idea of maker cities has emerged, as way to talk about connecting local makers, physical spaces, DIY workshops, education, local production, manufacturing tools and resources as part of economic, education and cultural development. It is also a form of civic engagement which encourages its citizens to take the initiative and do things that perhaps governments or businesses cannot do.
The Next 10 Years
I hope that over the next ten years, Maker Faire will continue to expand the reach of the Maker Movement and it will have even greater impact:
Creating new businesses, developing a generation of innovators, and generating new jobs
Transforming education so that more kids are turned on to learning through making and become self-directed learners who are creative problem-solvers
Fostering a more creative, more productive and more inclusive culture that integrates science and technology along with arts and crafts
Maker Faire Bay Area and its Maker Faire network demonstrate just how popular making can be, and how it is possible to invite all kinds of people to be makers. Being popular is a good thing. Nobody can say this is just a small subculture. Or just something that’s only possible in California. The maker community — really itself a network of local and interest-based communities — is a robust well-traveled ten-year-old. Yet we can still wonder how she might grow up and what will become of her. I believe she will prosper because of what we know about her already.
Here’s the advice I’d like to offer this ten-year old:
Imagine the world being different because of you. Each of us can express who we are by what we learn to do and the things we make. At Maker Faire, all those things that make us different have a place — they belong here. You belong here. So does everybody else. By coming together, we find that we are connected to each other in a community that values openness, creativity, exploration, playfulness, generosity and kindness. That’s who we are when we are at our best.
Realize that we have the freedom and the tools to change things. We can make the world better together.