Like bees to flowers, Maker Faires have become a hub for swarms of builders, designers and hobbyists of all mediums. Some attend to showcase or pitch their creations, inventions or products at their booths, but many more makers come seeking inspiration. They come to see what others have created and to go home and build their own twists, adaptations and totally new creations. Plenty of schools, clubs and maker spaces also attend to share their resources designed to provide the tools for people, especially kids, to learn technical skills important in creation. Having previously covered maker spaces, I was curious to see the new trend in the maker community first hand. And with Mini Maker Faires popping up across the US and around the globe, I didn’t have to look very far to find one nearby to attend.
“Maker fairs embrace all kinds of makers,” says Heather Sabin, organizer of the Madison Mini Maker Faire, held in Madison, Wisconsin. “If you’ve decided that you’re not going to go out and buy whatever you need but you want to make it, those people are here. Everyone from visual artists to people who are in the realm of technology, be it 3D printing or robotics are here. We also have what’s considered hobbyist makers. People who are doing wood working with an axe, so they’re not using any kind of high tech equipment or tools at all.”
STEM in Action
Touring the floor you really get a sense for the truth in Sabin’s words. Each aisle is packed with makers spanning every age, tool and creation. The booths range in subjects, from R2D2 building, chopstick making lessons and blade forging to Bonsai growing. While a chunk are in more traditional STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields showcasing 3D printers, robotics or coding, the net is cast wide as many other people come to share their jewelry, knitted items or even block printings they make.
One of the most eye catching makers on display at the Madison Mini Maker fair was Shane Evans with his Robot Resurrection: a colossal 30 foot tall, human piloted, articulating, fire blasting robotic sculpture. Stationed at the Olin Terrace, Robot Resurrection stood as a monolithic beacon for the Madison Mini Maker Faire. Robot Resurrection was constructed with 90% recycled materials and reclaimed airplane parts. The creator, Shane Evans wrote while documenting Robot Resurrection’s construction that the robot is meant to represent how humans continue to consume and pollute without concern for the planet, like well trained robots lacking sympathy for their home.
“People who visit Maker Faires are going to hopefully be inspired to try something new, and that’s what this Faire offers,” adds Sabin. “You can either see something in action or literally get your hands on something and try it for yourself. So, it really is the perfect place to learn about something you might’ve been curious about or maybe you didn’t even know you were interested in until you came here.”
Meet the Makers
“We’re basically a hobby club that builds droids from Star Wars,” explains a member of the R2D2 Builders Club who goes by the name DroidNut on the Astromech.net forums. “Some other members of the club also build things like Wall-Es and K9s from Doctor Who.” DroidNut was one of the many exhibiting makers I had the chance to chat with at the Madison Mini Maker Faire. Some of the makers of the exhibition hall in the Monana Convention Center, itself designed by noted architect Frank Loyd Wright, spilled out onto the streets leading to the Wisconsin State Capital. The hall and streets outside were filled with makers proud of what they had built and eager to showcase their designs. One of my biggest impressions from my time at the Madison Mini Maker Faire was the level of drive to spread the seeds of creativity that the makers held. Walking the aisles of exhibitors, it’s obvious it was a gathering of creators passionate to pollinate inspiration.
Performances of Science
In addition to the booths packed with passionate makers, many Maker Faires offer workshops or live demonstrations to further expand the content available for attendees. At the Madison Mini Maker Faire, an array of additional demonstrations and hands on classes were available with topics ranging from knife forging to making art from books. Topping off the Madison Mini Maker Faire’s festivities, ArcAttack – half science show, half live musical performance – came in to blend STEM with instantly recognizable nerdy anthems. But ArcAttack is far from your normal band, with a robot drummer, mid set science tricks, an array of STEM made sounds incorporated into the music and even a pair of gargantuan “Singing Tesla Coils”.
“[I come] just to get people, especially kids, interested in robotics and the like,” replies DroidNut when asked about why he attends Maker Faires. “They can see the different parts that go into something like this.” He motions to a table full of the intricate components used in the club’s R2D2 replicas. “It’s pretty easy to get someone interested in robotics when they see something that’s out of a movie. You kind of go ‘look at that!’ If we were to just put the gadgets here it might be a little more difficult to engage kids with that. That, and I wanted an R2D2,” he concludes with a chuckle.