Q&A: The Ann Arbor Mini Maker Faire and Beyond

MakerBridge chatted this week with Emily Puckett Rodgers, special projects librarian at the University of Michigan, open education advocate, and co-organizer of the Ann Arbor Mini Maker Faire, about how Maker Faires connect neighbors and ignite creativity.

Plus: Get some practical tips on running a Maker Faire in your area.

The Ann Arbor Mini Maker Faire is this weekend, and it's free!

When: 10 AM to 5 PM, Saturday, June 8.
Where: Morris Lawrence Building, Washtenaw Community College.

MakerBridge: A lot of us are familiar with makerspaces -- outside of those spaces, what role can Maker Faires play in a community?

Emily: One of the most important elements of a Maker Faire is bringing the community together. When you attend a local Maker Faire in your area, you learn so much about who else lives in the community with you, what they do, and opportunities to connect to learn new skills or get work done. For example, I learned about a local sewing business when I visited a Mini Maker Faire.

What can a visitor to the Ann Arbor Mini Maker Faire expect to see, do, and experience this year? Any highlights you want to tell us about?

You can expect to see marshmallow cannons, air sculptures, laser music, robots, book arts, wearable art, solar powered tools, radios, soldering stations, and lots of other things at the Ann Arbor Mini Maker Faire. Many of the booths will feature ‘make and take’ options, giving you the chance to learn how to do a version of the project, invention, artwork, craft on display. So you can expect to get your hands a little dirty and come away with new skills and objects that you created yourself. It’s like a county fair but you don’t just look and you make the prizes.

This year features a new opportunity for attendees. Because we’re partnering with Washtenaw Community College to host the Maker Faire, we are able to provide space for speakers. This allows us to expand the kinds of educational opportunities we offer attendees, so that they can sit down and listen to someone talk about their work more in depth.

Speakers this year include: Matt Shlian, Jason Ferguson, Bound Edition, Maker Works, All Hands Active, and Appropriate Technology Collaborative.

From your past experience as a participant in the Mini Maker Faire, what kinds of learning have you observed or experienced? Any neat stories to share?

I think the most fun thing about attending a Maker Faire is the ‘make and take’ experience. Many Makers will teach attendees how to do some small craft or create something they can take home with them. I’ve been able to sit down right alongside kids and make stamps, bags, learn about geocaching and participate in a really large screen printing project.

Basically everyone, any age, is treated as an equal at Maker Faires. It’s a great experience to learn alongside kids, and to come away with something you made and new skills.

How do you think Maker Faires reflect their communities? What makes the Mini Maker Faire distinctly "Ann Arbor/Southeast Michigan"?

Maker Faires are mirrors of their communities. Because Maker Faires include arts, crafts, technology, carpentry, mechanics, engineering, and almost anything else folks can make, they are like a petri dish of towns, cities, and regions. Our area is unique because of the intersection of the auto industry (so we have folks who know how to make big things from metal and a very active FIRST robotics community), the university (we have researchers, and engineers who showcase their work at Maker Faires), the socially minded (the Appropriate Technology Collaborative folks who always showcase their work, as does the Amateur Radio club), and the education-entrepreneurs (Brain Monkeys has been a continual sponsor and Maker in the Ann Arbor Mini Maker Faire). You really see and experience the creativity, passion, and skill in our community at the Maker Faire.

We have an amazing intersection of talent, skills, and perspective that makes our Mini Maker Faire just as diverse as the Detroit Maker Faire (but smaller). In fact, even though the Ann Arbor Mini Maker Faire is named after one city, it really represents the entire region. Often Makers will connect with each other at a Faire and can continue partnerships into the year.

What are some of the logistical considerations involved with planning and hosting a Maker Faire? Any tips for folks in other communities who'd like to try it?

Space and power are probably the two biggest considerations when planning/hosting a Maker Faire. There are a lot of exhibits that Makers put on that need both electricity and big space. We have robots that compete, giant balloons, and lots of activity at a Maker Faire. A combination of inside and outside space is very valuable as well in case there are activities that need to be performed outside. The first four years of the Ann Arbor Maker Faire were held at the county fairgrounds. It was a good location, with lots of electricity, covered space, and plenty of parking. This year we’re partnering with Washtenaw Community College. They host large conferences for machinists and other tech-heavy groups, so they are familiar with our needs and the College is closer to the city and accessible by public transportation. These two factors made us decide to work with them for the fifth year of the Mini Maker Faire.

Other than this, I think it is important to be prepared to very actively reach out to your communities and to find new communities of Makers who may not be connected to each other. You can’t assume that your local Makeshop or smaller makerspace is where everyone spends their time. We have a group of planners who are all involved in different facets of the Maker community, and each of us bring our experience, expertise, and connections to the planning process.

We also really appreciate the local support we receive each year when planning the Mini Maker Faire. We have financial sponsors who also help do promotion, artists who help with design, other makerspaces who help pound the pavement, and parents who know the school communities really well. A Maker Faire isn’t much without a diversity of individuals, groups, and organizations that all lend a hand in one way or another.

- Interview conducted by Kelly Davenport

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