Maker Faires Show Innovation is the Key Ingredient For American Success


In today’s high-stress, hyped-up, dog-eat-dog world, we all could use a little comfort. 

Dale Dougherty knows how we can find it: by making things. Things like insanely-modded power wheels, solar-powered lunch boxes, skateboards lit up with electroluminescent wire, 60-foot long fire-breathing dragons, or nebulophones (“for musical awesomeness”). Dougherty is serious, and people in more than 50 cities around the world are following his lead. 

The growing Maker Movement that Dougherty helped spark is manifest, appropriately enough, in Maker Faires — big (sometimes huge) regional gatherings where people bring cool stuff they’ve made, and aspiring makers like you and me can see, touch, feel, and experience what they’ve done.  Just last month, thousands attended Faires in Seattle, Seoul, Raleigh, Vancouver, Tokyo, and Kansas City. They are “family-friendly festivals of invention, creativity and resourcefulness,” according to the organizers.  Media have dubbed them “the Ultimate DIY Project.”  

Dougherty says they are like “a science fair, an art fair, a little bit of Burning Man and things like that.”

And they’re also like comfort food. 

Why? Because making things (and being amazed by the creations of other regular people like us) restores our sense of order and control in a world that seems to have gone unpredictably wacky of late.  Dougherty explained it to Sanjay Gupta in a recent interview on CNN: “For many years ... we've kind of talked ourselves out of being makers; [rather] we're smart shoppers or consumers. And I really want to turn that around and say we are makers. We make our world .... Cooks are makers. People who create garments, dresses and things are makers. But so are people that tinker with electronics and carpentry and other areas as well. But I think one of the things that happens in making is that we are gaining some control over the world we live in. We are actually doing something important and valuable, and it's making a personal connection to that thing.”

Maker Faires give people the impetus to go ahead and build what they’ve been thinking about and use it to connect with other appreciative people. Justin Gray, an “artist, inventor, and welder-run-amok” who displayed his flame-throwing robot at the Maker Faire in San Mateo in May, challenged all would-be makers to get involved. 

“Have some chutzpah,” he said. “Get out there and do something. Don't sit around and wait for something to happen."

Dan Reus, Chief Instigator at Openly Disruptive in St. Louis, agrees. He sees the Maker movement as a key part of America’s future. After experiencing the Maker Faire in Kansas City in June, he notes that Makers are honing innovation skills in their spare time. 

“What a Maker does is identify a problem, find a solution that re-purposes some existing assets, and share it with the world. Ignore at your own peril,” Reus observes, “because Apple, Microsoft, and entire industries came out of amateur communities like the ones you see at Maker Faire today.”

Reus is not the only one who envisions the future emerging at the intersection of imaging and making.  Forward-thinking educators in many places are joining forces across disciplines to foster innovation by linking study of the creative arts with more technical fields. Adding arts to the science, technology, engineering, and math that is emphasized in classrooms today, they say they’re putting STEAM into STEM. The kind of left brain / right brain magic that resulted in the Extreme Marshmallow Cannon 14-year old Joey Hudy exhibited at the White House earlier this year can’t be learned through traditional teaching methods.  

Maker Faire’s Dougherty says that it must be grasped experientially, by doing. You can’t “tell someone to innovate. It's like creativity. You don't tell people to be creative. You invite them to, you know, and you open a context for them to do that, so it really resonates inside of them. It's not something you impose on them.” 

If you haven’t made it to a Maker Faire yet, don’t worry: they are scheduled soon in New York, Dublin, Detroit, Irvine, Portland, Singapore, and other places. You can hear Dougherty’s TED Talk about them any time. Or you can curl up with the latest content from the movement’s magazine Make.  You may find it’s comforting just to be connected.