Pittsburgh at epicenter of 'Maker Movement'
Chad Elish is convinced a revolution is brewing.
It's happening, he says, in basements, garages, libraries, museums and other gatherings throughout the city, the country and the world.
Most of these “makerspaces” are volunteer-driven, Elish says, and their focus is collaboration, education and providing a community for other like-minded people to make and create.
“It's a revolution that will change the way the next generation will think, feel and interact,” he predicts. “It will change the world as we know it.”
Makers are engineers, scientists, families, programmers, roboteers, food artisans, hobbyists, tinkerers, artists, crafters, carpenters and entrepreneurs, as well as the average person who simply has a thirst for learning, Elish says.
Pittsburgh, with its rich history of building and making, along with the universities and organizations that are based here, is absolutely on the forefront of this movement, Elish says. “We bleed ‘maker;' it's in our DNA,” he says.
That fact will be celebrated Oct. 10 and 11 at Allegheny Commons on the North Side with the first Maker Faire Pittsburgh at four locations, all within walking distance of one another: the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh, Buhl Community Park at Allegheny Square; Nova Place (formerly Allegheny Center) and the former Carnegie Free Library of Allegheny building.
Envisioned as “part county fair, part science fair and part something entirely new,” this all-ages festival of invention, creativity and resourcefulness is offering 200 exhibits, performances and presentations. The event is the only one of its size between Detroit and New York.
“Any person with a curious nature is going to love Maker Faire,” says Bill Schlageter, director of marketing for the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh, which opened its own Maker space in 2011. “Their curiosity, and those of makers, will be peaked.”
The Children's Museum is the presenter of the event and a national leader in the “Maker Movement” for families and children. It has held several mini Maker Faires in the past. This year's event is on a much larger scale.
It is a two-day event, in part, to prevent people from being overwhelmed by all of the options, says Donna Goyak, director of Maker Faire Pittsburgh.
“What is really unique is that it can be enjoyed on a really deep level or just skimming the surface,” she says. “You can attend a 45-minute workshop, have a 20-minute conversation with a maker about 3D printing, or focus on the food trucks and performances. The variety is mind-boggling,and it is meant to be.”
Opportunities for interacting with makers, representing all different levels of making and kinds of technologies, will abound. “They want you to lean over and touch and try and do. Just the synergy of that relationship is infectious,” Schlageter says. “The best souvenir there is being empowered to go home and try something.”
Making it shine
“A Maker Faire throws gas on the ‘Maker Movement' fire and makes it shine,” says Elish, who has participated in more than 10 gatherings in at least four cities. He encounters “amazing people doing simply amazing things” at these events.
Worldwide, there are currently 120 Maker Faires, licensed by Maker Media.
“Every time I go up to a booth and the maker describes how they made what they made, I get goose bumps,” he says. “You can feel their passion and drive and it's contagious. You leave the booth with the feeling of confidence that you too could make something like that.”
HackPGH will be represented at Pittsburgh Maker Faire with everything from wind turbines to robots to wooden clocks, he says.
Elish believes the “Maker Movement” is changing manufacturing as we know it. “Makers can now easily prototype and create small batches of products with do-it-yourself manufacturing,” he says. “Because of that, you can now start up a company with minimal expenses and the risk is a lot lower than before.”
Robert Gould. 52, of Churchill is a firm believer in the movement.
“As a lifelong tinkerer and maker, I want to pass along skills and knowledge I've collected along the way,” he says. “Creativity and craft are good for the soul. The ‘Maker Movement' is filling that need for people.”
He plans to demonstrate his process for making custom chocolates with a computer-aided design. Attendees will be invited to create their own design and pour chocolate.
Chris Quick, 32, of the South Side, feels the “Maker Movement” is “exactly what our country and world needs” to stimulate innovation.
“It also encourages pursuing STEM education and careers and to finding your passion in innovating,” he says. “Everyone is passionate about something. Your mission in life is to identify it, master it and find a way to use it to help the world.”
Quick is founder and CEO of Realbotics, Inc., an online community and software platform allowing makers and inventors the ability to share remote control of their robots and devices with people throughout the world. “It is a better, more interactive way to share what they do with the world, at any time,” he says.
At the Pittsburgh Faire, he will teach makers how to remotely operate their next creation through the Internet, and the public can test their aim with the RealBotics air cannon controlled, through an Android phone, as well as engage in a tank battle.
Tess Lojacono, president and CEO of Fine Art Miracles, based in Shadyside, will speak on the importance of human/robot interaction. Her nonprofit works with the underserved in Pittsburgh and other cities.
“We are the only organization in the eastern United States using social robots to help kids learn,” she says. “I believe passionately in the importance of everyone recognizing how robots can help us in ways that no other tool possibly can.”
For students of Shimira Williams, integration specialist at TEKStart, based in Pittsburgh's Lincoln-Lemington neighborhood, part of that future is wearable technology. “The young ladies are excited to do a mini-fashion show at Maker Faire Pittsburgh, as well as talk about their experiences,” she says.
TEKStart's mission is to kick-start technology education for children and their families, focusing on those residing in blighted communities, Williams says.
“Maker Faires are important to showcase the possibilities of what can be and inspire collaboration or competition. Both are healthy for the economy,” she says.
Students who once felt they had no place or voice can finally shine at the Maker Faire, says sixth-grade teacher Venneasha Davis, who is founder and facilitator of “Sisters e S.T.E.A.M.,” an after-school program at Woodland Hills Academy in the Woodland Hills School District.
“It helps to empower the middle-school girls in S.T.E.A.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) education, while also helping to increase their self-esteem,” she says. “Not only am I teaching science, but we learn how to love ourselves from the inside-out.”
The faire is important, she says, because it “empowers by showcasing limitless possibilities.”
Rex Rutkoski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4664 or firstname.lastname@example.org