Michelle Elbert, the marketing manager at ATX Hackerspace, remembers children walking around the Austin Mini Maker Faire last year with their blinking bat badges on — evidence that anyone can solder if they want to learn.
“Making things is a confidence booster, a self-esteem booster. When you can hold something up and say, ‘Hey, I made this,’ that’s a really powerful thing,” Elbert said.
The Austin Mini Maker Faire 2013 is a one-day event that celebrates the Do-It-Yourself movement in a show-and-tell format. The community-based learning event aims to entertain, connect and inspire children and adults to become makers and creators in a hands-on way. Makers range from tech enthusiasts to crafters to homesteaders to scientists to garage tinkerers.
ATX Hackerspace is just one of the hundreds of participating makers this year. In addition to their badges that they used as a tool to learn soldering at the inaugural mini event last year, Hackerspace will also offer a more complex circuit, complete with blinking LEDs, for more advanced solders.
“It’s fun getting together with people, and maybe none of you know how to do the thing you want to do at all, but you’re all willing to try,” Elbert said.
The original Maker Faire came to Austin for two brief stints in 2007 and 2008, but current producer of the event, Kami Wilt, couldn’t understand why it never came back in 2009 or the years that followed. Without any previous event-planning experience, she decided she had to fill the void for local makers by creating a mini maker faire that debuted for the first time last year.
“I didn’t know how I could do it, or even how it could be done, but I just felt like Austin needed it,” Wilt said. “I knew that the community would rise up and support me if I could just get the ball rolling and that’s exactly what happened.”
Wilt and her Austin Tinkering School inspired by the flagship Tinkering School in the Bay Area have created a smaller version of the international maker faire which has encouraged resourceful people to create anything they can think of.
Last year, the Austin Mini Maker Faire had more than 2,000 attendees, but Wilt says she expects even more participants this year.
“Kids and adults can have an eye-opening experience of ‘Wow, it can be totally worth your while to have this weird idea and follow through on it,’ ” Wilt said. “And now there will be a place that they can come and show it to people; that’s something that has been missing in Austin.”
Similar to the way she runs her Tinkering School, Wilt measures success by the level of engagement rather than the finished product. For her, it’s more about being in a creative flow of making things.
“The kids get to be the driving force behind the design process, but it’s not going to be us getting together and building this same type of birdhouse like you would at Home Depot or something,” Wilt said. “We might build birdhouses, but everyone is going to build a different birdhouse.”
She has led many classes to connect children with makers, and artists so that they can have the exposure to all of the creativity that’s out there already.
Wilt hopes that by dedicating an entire day to making, she’ll inspire a whole new generation of makers.
“You might not have a kid that gets to work with glass or gets to weld right at that moment when they are 9, but the fact that they’ll know that, that it’s possible and they will know the kind of people that they need to contact when they want to learn that skill, where they will need to use a skill they have already seen before.”
Bernadette Noll, the crafts lead for the faire, helped Wilt last year and also attended the event when it first came to Austin in 2007 and 2008. This year she will be heading up the Mega Swap and Clothes Chop.
“The idea is that people will come in, bring the clothes they don’t want, go through the pile, and find things they like either to get printed or to make into something else,” Noll said.
They’ll making bags out of worn clothes, yarn out of T-shirts, and also a denim mountain that uses cutoff denim donated by New Bohemia. Local collage artist, Melissa Knight also will be leading a giant fabric collage.
“It’s just realizing that you don’t have to go purchase new material, there are materials all around you,” Noll said. “Especially for kids, I don’t want them to think that in order to create, we need to purchase.”
Noll believes Austin holds enough creativity to run its own big-scale Maker Faire, because the projects, she says, are ageless as far as who can make them. The day of making opens up people’s eyes to their creative sides.
“Even people who don’t consider themselves creative can come in and sort of be guided by everything that they see,” Noll said. “I think a lot of times, especially adults, they get to a certain point where they decide they aren’t creative, and really I think everybody has some element of creativity that can be tapped.”
Jeremy Rose of The Austin Bike Zoo hopes to inspire communities through his creation of human-powered vehicles, bicycle-based theatrical performances, and educational youth programs. The Austin Bike Zoo is a collaborative effort between bikes and the artistry of puppets that has been around since 2005, but used the Maker Faire’s in 2007 and 2008 to promote themselves in the Austin community.
This year the Austin Bike Zoo will be premiering their Pedal Powered Carnival and bike wonderland. The showcase will be featuring a horse drawn carousel, and their latest kinetic creation, a giant white owl, flying in from where nature meets machine complete with juggling unicyclists and musicians.
Wilt hopes that local schools begin utilizing the faire’s resources and is excited to see the community of makers continue to grow each year. In the meantime, she keeps up with the making community and reads MAKE magazine regularly.
“I just want to create more opportunities for people to make and be inspired and meet other makers that they can share skills with,” Wilt said. “The coolest thing about the maker faire is having tons of makers come together and you never know what sort of amazing combination will happen.”
Austin Mini Maker Faire
When: 10 a.m.-6 p.m.Sunday
Where: Palmer Events Center, 900 Barton Springs Road
Tickets: $8-$10 online, $10-15 at the door
For more information: www.austinmakerfaire.com