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Making Something Out of Maker Faire

This weekend, Detroit has a chance to change – everything.

Hype? Maybe. But I believe it. And that is primarily because Dale Dougherty believes it. And he's got some pretty awesome ideas. And a bunch of friends who think like he does.

Dougherty is one of the founders, organizers and conspirators behind Maker Faire, which will take place Saturday and Sunday at The Henry Ford. Maker Faire is a family-friendly event where anyone who MAKES something – be it robots, solar vehicles, macramé or anything else – can show off what they've created, get input and get inspired.

The idea of Detroit hosting a Maker Faire had come up in the past, Dougherty said. But, at the time, there just wasn't enough here. Since then, something has changed. Now, there is a synergy of activity. Minds are on fire. There's fire in the belly, so to speak. So we've got something going that's worth seeing…and believing in.

I spoke Monday with Dougherty and Patricia Mooradian, president of The Henry Ford. They are both so geeked (ha!) about this event…and rightly so. Some 30 Makers from the city of Detroit -- and 80 percent from the Midwest -- will be represented here (out of more than 300 Makers), including Handmade Detroit, i3 Detroit (which will have its own space at Maker Faire Detroit), OmniCorpDetroit (which bills itself as Detroit's first hackerspace), and other individual Makers including one who has created a flame-throwing top hat and Detroit Manufacturing, a group which creates original Detroit-themed  pparel and accessories and teaches others how to do the same using readily available tools and materials.

Some more background: Maker Faire describes itself as “a family-fun festival to MAKE, create, learn, invent, CRAFT, recycle, build, think, play & be inspired by celebrating arts, crafts, engineering, food, music, science and technology.” It grew out of the creation of MAKE magazine, which focuses on this sort of DIY movement. Its first event was in San Francisco five years ago, Dougherty explained. That first year, about 20,000 people came. This past event, some 80,000 showed up. It just gets bigger and bigger.

In fact, my good palie Jennifer Blevins initially turned me onto the event. She of San Fran knew what a big deal the event was, and she was thrilled that Detroit was getting its own version.

“This is the home of Henry Ford. The history of American making is here. That's gotta mean something,” Dougherty said.

Henry Ford President Mooradian said the museum was thrilled to host. (Full disclosure: I am a huge fan of the place; but, then, I'm a geek too.) The museum folks had heard of the magazine, met Dougherty and began to hope that Maker Faire would make it here. And as a host of many large-scale events, The Henry Ford was open and willing to bring those inventive makers here.

“This is the perfect spot in the Midwest because of the history and the stories (our artifacts) tell. You're surrounded by innovation here. … The stories are all over here,” Mooradian said. “Our vision also is for the future. We celebrate the past, but we also look at people who are using their hands and solving problems today – help us get to that better future all of us aspire to.”

To Dougherty, the future is here. More importantly, the future is in (all of our collective) hands. The “maker movement” is about connecting with people, getting them to think in a different way, to try their hand at anything and everything.

“The greatest resource Detroit has is its people. Those are the makers. And that is why we're here – to met those people.” Dougherty said. “I want to meet those with the stuff in their garage. That's the great part, getting to meet and find out the things people are making here.

Mooradian agrees. “We (at the museum) never know when the next Thomas Edison or Wilbur Wright will walk in the door. … We want to spark people's imaginations (because) ordinary people have changed the world. We want people to relate to those stories and think this is something everybody can do – you can be creative, you can apply your imagination. You can think big. You're sparking your creativity and putting your hands on something and doing something.”

Can-do attitude? You're welcome at the Faire. Doing it to be creative or to make money? You're in. Want to get feedback on your craft or just talk to other like-minded makers? Come on down.

Even better – if you're a business that needs something – whatever thingie you need – come and see if there's a maker to match. This could be the place to find your next designer, engineer or Big Thinker. Source from your own community, Dougherty says. That too is the future of Detroit – “to open environments in which the needs and the people who fill those needs are close to each other,” he said.


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