so you want to run a maker faire?

In the last weekend of October I co-produced the 3rd Derby Mini Maker Faire at the SIlk Mill museum in Derby. It was our most successful Derby Mini Maker Faire ever, with about 2700 visitor and over 100 makers. We were greatly helped by the support of Rolls Royce and the Bloodhound SSC as well as the team at Derby Museums being 100% behind the Derby Mini Maker Faire as a good thing for the SIlk Mill and Derby.

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Chris Keady and Andrea Mercer (Co-Producers) put up bunting. Bunting is essential for getting that Maker Faire look just right.

My very first Maker Faire was at the Centre for Life in Newcastle Upon Tyne in April 2010, I set off from Nottingham very early in the morning to find myself at the Faire at 8am a good two hours before it was due to open to the public. When it did open I was one of the first through the door and stayed their the rest of the day. It was my first exposure “in the flesh” to many of the exciting projects, people and ideas I’d been researching for the fledgling Nottingham Hackspace, which had founded just the a few weeks before and a watershed moment for me at the start of a new life in some ways.

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Sometimes giving your sponsors the chance to make speeches is essential!

The recent Derby Mini Maker Faire marks my eighteenth Maker Faire, of which I’ve produced four of them and been an exhibitor at another twelve of them. That’s not to mention the un-branded “Making Fairs” I’ve been to. I still love these events and look forward to producing bigger and better events in the future as well as attending my first Bay Area Maker Faire in San Mateo California in May 2015. So what tips if any would I give an aspiring Mini Maker Faire producer? I’m glad you asked…

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Ensure you have an awesome marketing person like Emma Hallam shown above with “selfy stick”.

1. Make Media licensed Mini Maker Faire

The Americans are coming, hooray!

It’s easy for us Brits to fall into a little mind trap about America and Money. It’s somehow cultural osmosis that American companies are always BIG and RICH. Can this be true or every American company? Why do we think this? It’s been a staple of dramatic story telling in our culture that “The Americans are coming…” to save join us in war or step in with big oil money or buy out the failing company in a film or soap opera as some sort of funding deus ex machina. I think we naturally assume that the noisy and well run media empire that is Make Media have big pots of gold and we despair at their seemingly tight pockets? In spite of our unfounded prejudices about all that money they have, we mustn’t forget that Make Media recently floated from it’s parent company O’Reilly Media.

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Get your wallet out.

So likewise your Faire is going to cost money to run, money you’ll need to pay to Make Media. Make Media don’t let you use their branding lightly and you’ll need to be ready to pay to brand your event as a Mini Maker Faire. If you charge entry to your Faire, Make Media might want a cut of the gate and if you generate sponsorship Make Media might also want a cut of that too. How greedy? No, it’s their brand, if you don’t want to cut Make Media in then come up with your own brand. This can work well, but don’t be surprised if your “Fair” is missing a little something.

CONS 

  • Make Media will want a fee as well as a cut of your ticket price and sponsorship
  • Make Media will ask to collect data from your visitors and attending makers
  • You will need to ensure that you run the event in accordance with Make Media’s rules and the Mini Maker Faire playbook

PROS

  • By using the Maker Faire branding you have an instant short hand for what your event is
  • Make will promote your event
  • You will be part of a huge family of Maker Faires around the planet including the White House Maker Faire
  • People want to go to a Maker Faire near them, they might hear about them in New York or Newcastle Upon Tyne or Rome but not everyone will travel to go to a Faire but they will to yours if it’s local
  • Chuck some bunting up and it instantly LOOKS like a Maker Faire
  • Make Media and the producers network offer invaluable support and advise

I’ve written about a “Fair” that went off brand, Maker Day in Sheffield, it worked very well but you might also like to research Dublin Maker, Leicester Creator Fair (no link available) and Hack n Make Aberdeen. So think carefully when you go off brand… can you link into another fair? Are you reinventing the wheel? Will it look like a craft fair?

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A good venue and a good team

I’ve only been able to co-produce the Mini Maker Faires in Derby and Bristol because of the support of the venue. In the case of Bristol, the MShed museum, once I’d gotten them into the idea were great and helped with a great Faire. Hannah Fox and the team at Derby Museum (principally Andrea Mercer, Chris Keady, Emma Hallam and Kim Miller at the SIlk Mill) as well as all the staff and volunteers a museum can wield. Museums have generally been the favored venue for Faire’s in the UK. I think in the USA the Flagship Faires are principally seen as an outdoor event but I’ve not seen an outdoor Maker Faire in the UK yet.

One of the limiting factors for the event in Derby is the limits on numbers of people the building can accommodate at any given time. We have ambitions to grow the

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Planning is essential, the team discuss location for each maker prior to a “safety walk-about” ensure you have a fire evacuation plan and you aim to eliminate “pinch-points” where ease of movement is reduced. Pictured are Emma, Kim, Andrea, Mick and Chris.

2. MY Faire is going to be BIGGER than YOUR Faire

I don’t want to be Mini…

First thing you might be wondering is, why does my Faire have to be a Mini Faire? If you seek to run a Faire under licence to Make Media it’s going to be a Mini Faire, unless they agree to step in and partner up with you and grant you the honor of being a “featured” Faire or Maker Faire. The only one we currently have in the UK is the Faire at Newcastle-Upon-Tyne’s Center For Life. Why should Newcastle get the “featured” Faire I hear you scream? Well they got there first, they put time, effort and money into having the very first Maker Faire outside of the USA. They made it happen for them in Newcastle. You didn’t. I didn’t. So the featured Faire for the UK tends to be their where the effort and money is being made to hold it. Embrace it, I for one hope that Newcastle continues to host a featured Faire for a long time to come.

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Who’s on the brandwagon?

To be honest the Maker Faire game is a bit of a band wagon with all sorts of stories flying about and a lot of the producers are very inward looking. They want an event for their venue, their city or whatever. Some Mini Maker Faire annoying insist on running for two days. Faire’s sometimes “accidentally” drop the “mini” in press releases. Everyone wants a big successful Faire, just make sure you’ve done the leg work. It doesn’t happen over night.

Please, just run for one day!

My advise to any aspiring Maker Faire producer is to start small. If you want lots of Makers to come and show at your Faire don’t run for two days either. People giving up their time to show at your Faire (a grueling and sometimes costly task) don’t want to have to loose a whole weekend to travel and pay for accommodation. Run your mini Faire for one day not two days. Leave two day Faires to the big established players. Nothing annoys me more that a quiet Faire spread over two mediocre days (yes Manchester I’m looking at you) I’d rather have one fantastic busy day than two mediocre quiet ones.

Local Makers are key!

Go find them, your local makers, in fact if you don’t have at least 10 local makers who you know can exhibit, think carefully about having a Faire at all. You need to weed them out. Remember a lot of makers don’t know they are “makers” and certainly wouldn’t dream of showing off their projects. The point of most projects isn’t to finish them, it’s the ongoing joy people get from tinkering, tweeking, reinventing, experimenting. Think about something YOU made… how willing were you to have it put on display whilst you got asked a 1000 questions about it? If you are extroverted (and if you are thinking of running a faire you are) try to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. If you were a “deep geek” how keen are you going to be to have people (potentially) tell you how you’ve done your thing wrong. Go, find the local makers. The projects don’t even need to be finished to make them interesting. If you have a really good Faire with a good reputation and things that Makers want to see themselves you’ll get applications from further afield. But at all times THINK MAKER CARE not MAKER FAIRE! 

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Find your local makers, make your event excellent and makers will come to you. Lots of “famous” people from the UK maker scene in this picture can you spot them? Leave a comment if you can.

Watch out for the craft mafia!

Crafters are a very important part of any Maker Faire, but here is a little warning, MAKE SURE THAT YOUR EXHIBITORS KNOW THIS IS NOT A CRAFT FAIR. Crafters understand, they get craft fairs. I don’t like craft fairs. A craft fair is not a Maker Faire. At a craft fair you’ll have a number of people “playing shop” setting out things that have been made and selling them. By all means let your makers sell at your Faire, but to stop it looking and feeling like a craft fair INSIST THAT CRAFTERS BE PREPARED TO DEMONSTRATE THEIR CRAFT AND TALK ABOUT THEIR PASSION FOR MAKING. This makes a world of difference and will stop your Make Faire looking like a craft fair. Having said that, if you DO have a huge Faire, consider having a craft market as part of it. There was a sort of ETSY sellers bit at the World Maker Faire and it was F******** awesome.

Where is our big Faire?

Earlier this year there was talk of a huge “Flagship” Faire for East London. At the time of the announcement which went off a little bit half-cocked I was invited to a Google Hangout with staff from Make Media. They carefully explained that they would very much like a “flagship” sized Faire for the UK and that it would require many hundreds of thousands of dollars investment and that we shouldn’t be sour about the impact on Faires like the Elephant & Castle Mini Maker Faire and the UK Maker Faire in Newcastle. I don’t think the guys at Make understood our annoyance about the diminuation of the UK Maker Faire in Newcastle. But I now know that if you’d have been to World or Bay Area Maker Faire you’d be forgiven for assuming that the UK Maker Faire was a Mini Faire (sorry Newcastle you’re still my favorite). The guys at Make were genuinely a little hurt by the UK producers seeming hostility to a large scale Maker Faire in London given the amount of money and effort it would take them. I for one look forward to a UK based “Flagship” Faire and want to mark myself out as a supporter of that idea. Let’s not be naive about such a Faire, it’s going to take money and political wrangling to make it happen, so I do forgive just a little the shitty press release put out by Here East earlier this year.

 3. MAKER CARE not MAKER FAIRE

To build your Faire make sure that you do LOTS of things for Makers. This might include:

  • PAT Testing – if your venue requires PAT then don’t expect the makers to pay for it
  • Understand that lots of amateur makers DO NOT HAVE public liability insurance
  • Help them with the application form, lots of makers make a big deal of making an application and they shouldn’t worry about it so much
  • Help them with Risk Assessments, lots of them have never done this before
  • Give them a Greenroom with tea and coffee, water and some snacks if you can, a Makers only toilet and cloakroom is also good.
  • Communicate, welcome them and help them, remember a lot of Makers will have made a big effort to come to your Faire. Naturally many of them will not be thinking about YOU and your problems but them and their problems.
  • Makers will fill any space given to them and any amount of “prep” time they are given.
  • Give your Makers a lunch in a bag that they can eat at their stall.
  • Try and provide some perks for your Makers. A little time (and encouragement) to look at each others work. Pizza and beer on setup night help too. Maybe a behind the scenes tour of your venue?

…and last of all. A great team who all understand what Maker Faire is about is essential. I dedicate this blog post to the hard work of the Derby Mini Maker Faire team. Thank you!

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The Derby Mini Maker Faire Team finish off a barrel of beer left over from the Makers Meetup after the long hard day of Derby Mini Maker Faire 2014

 For an official Make Media Inc how-too please click here.