One of the reasons I’ve got a bit behind on blogging is because of the on off nature of my recent trip to World Maker Faire in New York (well Queens really). About a month and a half ago I heard my fellow Derby Mini Maker Faire conspiritors at the Derby Silk Mill Museum were planning something of a junket to visit New York to co-inside with the World Maker Faire… this hit a nerve with me and I decided I wanted to go too.
Hannah Fox, director at the Silk Mill who has always treated me as part of the Derby Museums team okay’d me sleeping on the floor or the large 8 bed apartment they had rented on the Upper East Side of Manhattan (East 83rd and 2nd Ave to be precise). However for the first time in at least thirty years I didn’t have a passport ready to go, having only just sent it off for renewal. Panic… Long story short my passport arrived on Wednesday 17th September at 8:30am, I booked a flight there and then to leave at 2:00pm from Heathrow, really not leaving myself long enough to pack! (I made it obviously).
The pace combined with the it’s on it’s off aspect of this trip really set the tone. On reflection going was easy and not so very expensive though accommodation would have been a struggle. I was grateful to Make Media (thanks Sabrina) for extending me discounted entry to the Mini Maker Faire producers Meetup as well as a free makers pass to the Faire itself. My black and red wrist band allowing me access to all areas of the Faire. Following some very interesting talks on Mini Maker Faires around the world, an introduction to the Make editorial staff and a workshop on “the Maker City”, we were treated to the “Rock Star Tour” of World Maker Faire from Sabrina Merlo, Make Medias Maker Faire Program Director and the person behind all Maker Faire and Mini Maker Faire licencing.
It was very interesting to meet so many Faire producers from all over, aspiring producers from Buenos Aires as well as veterans like Little Rock, Henry Ford Museum and Chicago. The Americans really get Maker Faire too, I suppose this is because it’s born of their culture. I was delighted to hear how producers have been challenging sponsors, who want to get in on the Maker boom. One told me of how they’d told a car manufacturer not to bother sponsoring or coming along to the event if they just brought along their usual boring trade stand and showroom cars. “Come back with something interactive, bring your engineers not your salesmen…” Apparently the engineers decided to bring a car and a tool kit and let the kids dismantle it! Kids were taking bits of it home and they just chucked what was left onto a flat bed and drove it back to the factory. I love that.
The Faire itself was huge and on a scale that makes our UK Faires look very small potatoes. I think the Americans really care about themselves as makers. Practical skills seem highly admired and prized. It’s possibly not fair of me with so little understanding of the US history and culture to state a view on it but I think it’s something to do with their cultural heritage. The same heritage which makes having a “shop” (workshop) much more common and that even fuels things that to my British sensibilities seem odd ideas like survivalism (nothing wrong with being prepared) and even Militias (much more questionable). It’s about not being reliant on others. Manufacturing, being makers made the United States a superpower at the start of the 20th Century, they want that back… I think they realise they have to innovate. I think in the UK we seem a lot more comfortable letting go, and, like the days of Empire, manufacturing is seen as ancient history?
There is no doubt that Making is big business in the USA, the Maker Shed (Make Medias online and at Faire shop) was packed most of both days with long queues to buy educations (and not so educational) toys, puzzles, kits and tools. Inside were Cheryl Hrynkiw and Liz Wade from Solarbotics, demonstrating their excellent kits including “Herbie the Mousebot” and their solarengine version of MSRaynsford’s Marble Machine. Liz told me that they’d be stuck in the heat for hours and gladly accepted my offer of some cover whilst they got a lunch break and very much enjoyed playing with the mousebots.
I’d met the Solarbotics crew the day before when Jason Bedard, Solarbotic’s “education evangelist” had introduced himself in the lunch line of the Maker Faire Producers Meet Up. Turns out that Jason is a veteran Mini Maker Faire producer too and co-produces the Calgary Mini Maker Faire and we became fast friends! He also introduced me to co-conspirators Shannon and Maria Hoover. Turns out the Calgary Mini is only mini in name and the CMMF crew introduced me to Stephen and Fritz from the Eepybirds famous for their Coke & Mentos videos on YouTube. They’d performed at the Calgary faire and were performed 3 packed shows at WMF. Just before a performance they were happy to chat and show me about and invited me to stand on stage for the performance. I decided that was a bad idea in the end but they were very friendly and very entertaining. They taught me that after each performance put your arms up in the air like this \o/
I managed to get around the Faire about twice but really needed more of a plan and probably a wing-man to help me browse. When you have someone else with you they notice and are interested and draw you to other things, you can also speak to each other about what you are looking at making it easier to strike up conversation with the Makers. The Faire was so huge that it was almost hard to know what to look at. Me being something of a Faire veteran here in the UK, I’m always much more comfortable on the Maker side of the table. To that end I spent some of my time helping out sugru on their stand, this was an excellent way to meet other makers and visitors as I’d not really have had the brass neck to just speak to people wondering past me without the excuse of being on a stall.
Some highlights for me at the Faire over all were the myriad Hackerspace stalls, I went round them wearing my UK Hackspace Foundation t-shirt, this was a good way to get noticed and asked a lot of questions. I’d like to have taken time to look around the craft fair area which was packed with ETSY sellers and looked awesome, but I just didn’t get time to look properly. I was also impressed by DREMELS 3D printer which had been released that week in the USA with a sub $1k price point.
I spent a couple of days just, well, wondering about in New York getting the feel of the place. I was delighted to attend a party at Kickstarter HQ (yes that was a cool as you imagine it might be) thanks to a last minute invite from Paul Beech. I was pleased to be able to take one of Tony Jackson’s silly red bunnies up the Rockefeller Center tower and get some nice shots over Manhattan (which I still need to load to Flickr). I can honestly say that, for fear of it starting to sound like a “what I done on my holidayz” type story I’m going to stop there. The trip to New York was a step change, life changing thing for me. It was easy to go and not really expensive at all I can’t think why I didn’t go years ago. I will return there, often I think.
I want to thank a few people for making the trip possible especially Hannah Fox, Andrea Mercer and all my friends from the Silk Mill and Derby Museums, Paul Beech and the Pimoroni crew, David Over and James (big hugs) Carrigan from sugru for being my stall buddies, Jason, Liz and Cheryl from Solarbotics for letting me be part of the team and being instant friends, Sabrina Merlo for taking the time to show me around the Faire and chatting away with me when she was so busy and all the many makers and Americans who were friendly, interesting and awesome.
…and Cheryl thanks for the best cheesecake I’ve ever eaten!