Attendees get hands-on with programming, more at Maker Party in the Strip

Debra Erdley
| Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Juliet Forrest sat transfixed by a computer screen on Saturday morning as Jess Gold, a youth educator from Assemble, led her through an introduction to computer programming with Scratch.

The 5-year-old blonde from McCandless smiled as she manipulated the program, developed at MIT, to discover the building blocks of the visual computer language that generated a piano keyboard game. With time, Gold said, just about anyone can become comfortable with the free program and move on to make games.

“We're really just empowering people through making. This is a hands-on program with art and technology,” Gold said, explaining her work station at the Maker Party in the gallery at the Society for Contemporary Crafts.

Assemble is a nonprofit educational group based in Garfield that focuses on teaching and promoting STEAM principles (science, technology, engineering, art and math).

Making, tinkering, building and creating were the focus of the Pittsburgh Maker Party, a free event that attracted scores of families to the gallery in the Strip District.

Christine Forrest proclaimed the event a success for her family. “She's enjoying it, and he's getting ideas,“ she said, pointing to her daughter and her husband, Tom.

The Maker Party, one of a series of free global events this summer organized by software community Mozilla, attracted a cross-section of adults and children intent on getting hands-on experience with an array of work stations that featured everything from papermaking to hacking The New York Times website.

“Think of this as the garage tinkerers meeting the hackers. It's a fun way to provide youth and adults with a way to back into the maker community. This is a direct response to the fear that we're losing those skills to make things” said Ryan Coon. Coon, a staffer for the Sprout Fund, helped organize the Pittsburgh event.

The normally quiet gallery buzzed with chatter as children and adults tackled everything from an introduction to digital filmmaking with representatives from Steeltown Youth and Media, to Victorian puppetry with Dave English's Schmutz Company.

Outside the gallery, Lizzee Solomon and Julie Pompizzi, teachers from the Tech Shop in East Liberty, alternately inked a printmaking block crafted from a linoleum tile with a laser cutter and demonstrated the ins and outs of a homemade cannon that blew miniature marshmallows into the air.

In the gallery basement, artist Albert Pantone helped Ashley Fersch, 22, of Reserve make paper from a solution he produces from invasive Japanese knotweed that he has been clearing out of his Larimer neighborhood. Although the knotweed recipe is new, the process dates back 1,500 years, Pantone said.

“This seems like something I could do at home,” Fersch said, as Pantone helped her package the still wet page she made.

Nearby, Ethan Csont, 13, and his sister, Caroline, 11, took advantage of sculpting clay, making seed pods and, finally, hacking The New York Times to create their own headlines using a free program and a little help from instructors with Remake Learning's Digital Corps.

“Anybody can be creative in some way,” said Ethan. “Even if they don't know it, they have that spark.”

Debra Erdley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7996 or

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