I’m currently on a research trip in New York that just happens to coincide with the annual World Maker Faire, held in NYC every September. Needless to say I jumped at the chance to check out one of the biggest Maker Faires in the world. This year was the 9th World Maker Faire, and as usual it was held at the New York Hall of Science in Queens on the edge of Flushing Meadows.
The Faire takes place over a Saturday and Sunday, but since I used to be involved with the Brighton Mini Maker Faire I also snagged a ticket for the pre-event maker dinner on Friday evening. The maker dinner is a chance for makers and organisers to take a break from setting up their stalls for the weekend and have a chat over a beer and a plate of the traditional Maker Faire paella. There was also a Maker Faire producers meetup on the Friday evening, so I got to meet some of my fellow Maker Faire organisers from across the US and chat to them about the difficulties of running big annual maker events and trying to keep the events sustainable.
During the rest of the weekend I checked out some of the hundreds of stalls dotted around the Faire. As one of the flagship Maker Faires it attracts makers from as far afield as Egypt and China, so to manage the huge number of projects on display the exhibits are loosely grouped according to theme. Inside the Hall of Science was a hall full of fashion and wearable tech projects, a dark room for LED projects to shine (ba-dum tish), and a huge model town painstakingly built out of masking tape (aka “Tapigami”) in the main foyer. Outside in the grounds was the makerspaces area with representatives from makerspaces all over the East Coast, the Robot Battle Arena, an exhibition of tiny houses, a hacky racers racetrack similar to what they had at EMF Camp last month, a Dance Battle tent, and the biggest exhibit at the Faire: the Hand of Man.
Aside from the exhibits it was easy to encounter fun stuff going on around the Faire, whether that’s kids (and big kids) zipping around on tall bikes and electric skateboards, guerrilla hula hoopers in Science Alley, inquisitive Wall-E style robots, or an old man riding a mechanical horse (????). One of my favourite things was the L-Train Marching Band popping up all over the Faire, usually playing a big band rendition of the Ghostbusters theme.
There was also a full program of talks going on over the weekend and I checked out one on “The Future of Online Project Sharing” that was relevant to my research on building inclusive technology spaces. The panel of speakers represented Instructables, Hackaday, Hackster.io, and Maker Media (publisher of Make magazine and Maker Faire license holder), who spoke about the need to moderate content, particularly comments between website users, in order to make their platforms accessible to a wide range of people: you can’t allow everyone to participate, because then the good people won’t want to be there because of the bad people. One of the speakers, Alex Glowaski, also related this to makerspaces by mentioning how Noisebridge started off with just one rule – “be excellent to each other” – but actually needed to develop other rules to provide a safer community for everyone.
Something I noticed about this Maker Faire was that it was a bit more ethnically diverse than the Faires back home in the UK. In a way this is to be expected since New York is a highly racially diverse city and the area around the Hall of Science has a high proportion of Spanish-speaking residents, but this also seemed to be supported by areas like the Dance Battle tent where there were lots of Black and Asian kids watching hip hop dancers perform. There were also school groups of Black students visiting the Faire, and I heard that the organisers provide support for several schools to send under-represented students to the event each year.
The Hall of Science was a great venue for the Maker Faire as attendees also got access to all of the regular exhibits that were going on at the museum, but this was the first time that I’d been to a Maker Faire where a large proportion of the stalls are outside in the open air and unfortunately we were a bit unlucky with the weather: during the maker dinner on Friday it was so windy that the DJ’s records blew away, and on Sunday afternoon many of the stalls started packing up early when it started raining. But apparently other years have been baking hot, so I guess it can’t work out every time.
If you’re ever in New York while the World Maker Faire’s on definitely check it out, and make sure you get tickets in advance as it’s cheaper than on the door!
Header image: Part of the large outdoor area at WMF