All Hands-On:The Rogue Valley Mini-Maker Faire Really Produces!
One of the highlights from last year’s Tinkerfest—an event that embodies so many facets of its do-it-yourself title—was an energetic robot presented by the Ashland High School Robotics Club. The robot pounced on playground balls with the fervor of a Labrador Retriever, and would fire them with the precision of a NBA champion free-throw shooter—and then repeat the process, tirelessly. A low-riding, four-wheeled machine the size of a four-person Japanese restaurant table, the robot runs on student-built motors and programmed electronics that allow the operator to nimbly send the machine instantly racing in any of 360 degrees.
“Kids ask, ‘How does it work?,’ and ‘How did we build it?’,” says Gineva Hargrave-Radford, an Ashland High School Senior and Robotics Club member. She also hopes another question is: how can they get involved? And, how can they make their own robot—or whatever it is their imagination can dream up.
Building and operating a robot—versus reading about one or just observing someone else’s creation—is a core philosophy of events like last year’s Tinkerfest, and part of the “maker movement,” a loosely organized culture of do-it-yourselvers who like to tinker and build with their hands and whatever materials they can find. These are events are, in part, a reaction to a culture that is becoming so much more consumer-based rather than producing one’s own toys, gizmos and creations; and, they also are simply good old-fashion hands-on fun.
Last year’s Tinkerfest, which ran for several years, has given way to the first Rogue Valley Mini Maker Faire; and, on Saturday, November 19, the event has expanded. It will still include a return visit from the Robotics Club’s energetic robot, but also will feature dozens of hands-on activities and presentations which celebrate the creativity, innovation, and fun of “making,” and presentations from highly-skilled professionals who are actually making a decent living at these crafts, like Annika Schindler from Hillboro’s LAIKA Animation Studio who was responsible for the intricate and quirky costumes in the stop-motion film Coraline.
Other events scheduled for Saturday include high-voltage woodburning with DIY Cave of Bend, and the infamous Car-Take-Apart (an activity whose name pretty much explains itself). The day appeals to everyone who has ever created or hopes to create something by hand, from ages two to ninety-two, and might even inspire those to whom a socket wrench or a felting needle are as foreign as an arduino (which is, by the way, an open-source electronics platform or board and the software used to program it).
Southern Oregon’s first Maker Faire is a local version of larger national and even international Maker Faires dedicated to the art, science, and excitement of making things. 2014 attendance figures reflect the renewed enthusiasm for hands-on work, as 215,000 people attended the two flagship Maker Faires in the Bay Area and New York. Annually, 119 independently-produced Mini (like the Rogue Valley’s) and 14 Featured Maker Faires also occur around the world in locations stretching from Adelaide to Tokyo to Detroit to Oslo.
“As a regional science museum with an emphasis on hands-on experiences,” says Festival Director Greg Dills, “ScienceWorks wants to promote the sharing of what people make, what they’re passionate about.” The Maker Faire, he continues, “has a universal appeal. It teaches something while having fun—what ScienceWorks is all about.” In addition to supporting ScienceWorks, the Faire will allow other Rogue Valley organizations and businesses fostering innovation and promoting STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math education) to engage the crowd.
The Rogue Valley Mini Maker Faire will highlight three professional “Makers” in particular. Fans of Coraline and Box Trolls, stop-motion animated feature films from Hillsboro-based animation studio, LAIKA, will have the chance meet Annika Schindler, a Costume Fabricator for the studio. She will discuss with audiences the challenges of designing costumes in miniature for production in the highly-detailed, stop-motion technique. Danny Scheible, the creator of TAPIGAMI, will lead a workshop in his unique method of producing art with the mundane materials of tape and scissors. And, additionally, Nonscriptum, a consulting and training company based in Pasadena, will demonstrate how educators and scientists can use 3D printing and other “Maker” technology to realize creative visions or solve technological problems.
Overall, the Maker Movement encompasses a broad range of creative, inventive, and do-it-yourself activities from kinetic bicycle sculptures, to elaborate, hand-made Star Wars costumes, to high-tech facial recognition devices; Dills explains, a Maker Faire often includes the innovator who “created something in their garage and just wanted to share it with the world.”
The 45 Makers at the Faire, from Aleman Labs to Zaniac Pictures, reflect the creativity, innovation, and, most importantly, hands-on work at the heart of the Maker Movement as it exists in the Rogue Valley. Most of the Makers featured at the fair will offer a hands-on component, often with a resulting product for kids or adults to take home. Using a felting needle to craft felt figures or sculptures might appeal to some; the chance to climb on board a skid loader from Medford Bobcat might appeal to others.
“Since we are a hands-on museum, as long as people are safe, we allow people to use real tools,” says Dills.
Using tools will be essential at one of the most eagerly anticipated activities, the Car-Take-Apart. The chance to actually grab a wrench and work on a car “seems really, really intriguing to kids and adults,” comments Ashland Automotive’s Zach Edwards. Most car owners hesitate to do anything more than put gas in their car’s tank (and not even that in Oregon), a far remove from when more Americans felt comfortable under the hood decades ago. With a 1989 Nissan Sentra and 2003 Dodge Intrepid, both donated for the occasion by Action Auto Parts of Central Point, ready to be sacrificed for the sake of science and education, kids and adults will have the chance, under the guidance of professionals from Ashland Automotive and Rogue Community College, to, as Edwards puts it, “explore the mystery of a car’s technology without the consequences.”
Disassembling a car or spinning wool might not only be fun, they might be inspiring as well. Operating the Robotics Team robot might grab the imagination of a future engineer. A visit to the booth of Recycle Chicas could open the door to a future in fashion or design. Perhaps handling a socket wrench for the first time ever will inspire the inventor of a next generation car or even the equivalent of Luke Skywalker’s landspeeder, which would be entirely appropriate given the participation of Star Wars Oregon in this year’s Faire. The chance to actually do hands-on work–to learn to use a tool, to build or shape, to bring home a tangible product of a day’s, or at least an hour’s work– is at the heart of the Faire.
“One of our main objectives is to teach the next generation how to use their hands,” says Dills, “rather than rely on others to do it for them.”
Admission for the Mini Maker Faire is $10 for all ages. More information on the schedule and purchasing tickets is available at www.RogueValleyMakerFaire.org.