The Greatest Show and Tell on Earth

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Harnessing the power of collaborative
learning and DIY science, California’s
Maker Faire aims to combat throwaway culture by giving young people the tools
and inspiration to invent.  

This article originally appeared at Shareable.

Since 2006, Maker Faire has
provided a space for inventors, tinkerers, builders, crafters, and
wannabe-scientists to showcase their creations with the intent of encouraging
others to dabble in inventing something themselves. With large-scale kinetic
sculptures racing and roaming the grounds, science experiments with electronics
and activities like clothing and apparel re-purposing stations on site,
participants are encouraged to touch, ask questions, and take what they learn
into their own workshops for some fun experimentation outside of the Maker
Faires’ big top.

Sherry Huss, vice president of Maker Media, doesn’t look the role of a
lab-coat wearing mad scientist that one might expect to be a Maker Faire organizer.
There are no beakers popping up and bubbling over in her office. She wears no
tool belt as she navigates the work spaces of Maker Media’s headquarters in Sonoma County, California.
Yet, as anyone who has attended a Maker Faire may believe, Huss has the stuff
that genius is made of. Every year, she meets with her small planning team and
formulates the clever uses of time and space for what is referred to in their
tag line as “The Greatest Show and Tell on Earth.”

“We do it the old fashioned way,
with post-it notes and lay them out. And it somehow always magically works
out,” says Huss. “You have to get your head into it because everything that is
happening on site is intentional. There are very few things that just come
together,” she added.

And what comes together for
roughly 100,000 visitors after months of tireless planning is quite brilliant.

In addition to seeing a nearly
40 percent increase in new exhibitors each year, the contagious spirit of Maker
Faire continues to spread from the Maker’s Bay Area headquarters to the rest of
the world. With annual events in San Mateo and New York, and
over 100 mini-Faires or satellite events internationally (including Rome, UK and a rotating country Maker Faire Africa, among others),
Maker Faire has an accessible, inclusive vibe that leads many to start
tinkering with or concocting projects of their own.

“Making is all over. It’s not
just the Bay Area,” says Huss. “We don’t own the license on it…there are
tinkerers everywhere.”

Space is free for makers, and
event organizers only charge a small fee if an exhibitor plans to offer items
for sale. Maker is also careful with the selection process, focusing on
non-commercial exhibitors and ensuring that all of Maker Faire’s inventive
action is family-friendly and safe. Especially with so much
up-close-and-personal, hands-on DIY participation.

“People are there showing their
projects and sharing how they made them,” says Huss. “Our goal is to make
Makers. People who come to the Faire get the confidence to become a Maker.””

Based on feedback from previous
years’ attendees, demos and hands-on craft projects and exchanging ideas have
been the biggest draw. Naturally, organizers continue to foster the
collaborative learning that happens at the annual events that span two days. This
year’s theme is Maker Spaces, which is sure to be a huge hit among DIY
enthusiasts. Similar to model homes and the nifty kitchen design displays at
big box stores, Maker Faire will showcase these Maker Spaces to plant seeds of
empowerment in the minds of aspiring makers from all walks of life. What
defines these spaces, however, is not simply the presence of tools and a simple
tool bench, but the act of making itself.

“Just look at Mister Jalopy, chronicling the decline
of the work bench in the garage,” says Huss. “Garages now are mostly just
storage places. They used to have a work bench. The toaster broke, you didn’t
get a new one; you took it out and fixed it. I am hoping that this movement
will swing it back that way.”

Although the days of dad
tinkering with old radios and small appliances on his work bench in the garage
were often solitary escapes, the makers and fixers of today tend to have a more
collaborative focus. In addition to crews of several hundred helping hands,
sponsors and organizations collaborate to ensure that the festivities go on
without a hitch. In Detroit,
they collaborated with The Henry Ford
Museum and Research Center
. In Kansas
City, they had help from the Kauffman Foundation. Portland partnered with the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.

Huss isn’t directly involved in
programming for all of the Faires outside of New York and the Bay Area, but she
provides training opportunities for those interested in setting up their own
events, ensuring that the infectious Maker spirit spreads to the garages and
minds of the aspiring tinkerer in all of us. After all, Maker is not just a
one-time event. More than anything, Maker is a way of life that brings together
communities in a too-often competitive culture, and encourages–above all
else–collaboration, innovation, and fun.

“I think there is a lot of
(interest) with continuing education and the Maker Space community,” says Huss.
“Like the old grange where people came together; usually around food. It is so
cool for people to come together to make things,” she concludes.

Image by Bridgette
Vanderlaan, Maker Faire. 

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