Madison’s maker movement gaining STEAM

Show of hands: Who has ever looked at a piece of contemporary art or sculpture and thought some variation of, “My kid could do that”?

If your hand is up (and even if it’s not), this spring’s first-ever Madison Mini Maker Faire is calling your name. Makers of all ages will be showcasing their handiwork as part of the wider “maker movement.”

The maker movement is the broad term for inventors, designers, and tinkerers — and more specifically the convergence of traditional artisans with hacker culture (namely individuals who embrace the intellectual pursuit of overcoming systems-based limitations in computers, among other activities) — who make functional products and artwork that have been repurposed from unused, discarded, or broken electronics, plastics, metals, or virtually any other material.

With a focus on science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM), the maker movement is also forging new pathways in innovative education. Madison is already well on its way in this regard, with the StartingBlock entrepreneurial hub front and center in the local maker movement, as well as makerspaces at UW–Madison, the Madison Public Library’s “Bubbler” space, Sector 67, and The Bodgery.

The "Big Dog" quadricycle at Maker Faire Detroit 2011. (Photo credit: Michael Barera)

The maker movement has grown so widespread that it’s spawned its own magazine, Make:, which in turn led to the creation of the original Maker Faire in the San Francisco Bay area in 2006. Since then, maker faires have been popping up across the country and around the globe in increasing numbers.

“Madison Mini Maker Faire will be the only one of its kind in Madison, and will join the ranks of hundreds of communities all over the world that are producing Maker Faires,” says Fran Puleo, community & public relations manager for Monona Terrace Community & Convention Center, which is hosting the event. “Maker Faire is a family-friendly festival of invention, creativity, and expression. It’s an all-ages gathering of makers — artists, hackers, crafters, educators, food-makers, hobbyists, engineers, authors, musicians, local organizations, and commercial exhibitors. Makers come together to show what they have made and to share what they have learned through hands-on exhibits offered to the public.”

Currently, a call is on for makers of all ages to participate and display their creations for all of Dane County to see. Artists, performers, and crafters may apply from now through March 31 at to participate. There is no cost for any groups or individuals interested in presenting their project, activity, or performance at the Faire; however, anyone wishing to sell their creations at the event is required to pay a $100 fee to participate.

Maker Faire event coordinator Heather Sabin says 50 to 75 local artists and makers are expected to participate in the inaugural Madison event, ranging from hobbyists to professionals who earn income from their making.

“Through the process of getting to know different maker communities in Madison, I have spoken to individuals who began pursuing their maker hobbies as retirees, to, for instance, a person who is developing prototypes for prosthetics that he hopes to put on the market,” notes Sabin.



Indeed, as the maker movement has gathered increasing momentum, makers have created their own market ecosystem, developing new products and services, says Puleo.

A PR2 robot by Willow Garage at Maker Faire Bay Area 2011. (Photo credit: Timothy Vollmer)

“The combination of ingenious makers and innovative technologies such as the Arduino microcontroller and personal 3D printing are driving innovation in manufacturing, engineering, industrial design, hardware technology, and education,” Puleo explains. “Many makers are hobbyists, enthusiasts, or students — amateurs! — but they are also a wellspring of innovation, creating new products and producing value in the community. Some makers do become entrepreneurs and start companies. This is grassroots innovation that can be fostered in every community.”

The Madison Mini Maker Faire itself is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, May 14 at Monona Terrace. Sabin says attendees can expect to see a wide range of makers and their creations, from iron forgers to 3D printing to droid fighting. Some makers will be selling their wares and others will be simply sharing their craft through hands on demonstration.

A free, public area on is planned for Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. where vehicles, large-scale installations, and fun, messy demonstrations will likely be located. Attendees may also purchase tickets for $10 per adult or $5 per child through Eventbrite to see more intricate makers located inside and on the rooftop of Monona Terrace.

“We conservatively expect about 2,000 attendees in the first year,” notes Sabin. “This is slightly more than most mini maker faires see in their first year, but given our existing connection to the community, our great list of partners, and the proximity to the Saturday farmers market, we set our anticipated attendance higher than average.”

“Maker Faire showcases a fusion of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and STEAM, shedding light on the intersection of art and science,” adds Puleo. “National ‘superstar’ makers, such as the Coke and Mentos Guys, are an important part of the event, drawing attendees and creating great spectacle. But the Madison event’s centerpiece will be the exhibition of work from artists and makers from around the state, showcasing the diverse artistic innovation and technological traditions prevalent in Madison and across Wisconsin.”

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