National TED lecturer and MAKE magazine publisher Dale Dougherty turned the tables on a crowd of creatives who braved tornado warnings last night to hear his talk at GRid70 in Grand Rapids on the do-it-together trend that is sweeping the nation.
Dougherty instead asked all the attendees to introduce themselves and talk a bit about how they fashioned things from wood, metal, fabrics, electronic components and other ingredients and what their current projects were.
"The real value of me being here isn't to give a talk about the maker movement," said Dougherty, who traveled from the Sebastopol, Calif. headquarters of MAKE magazine to learn more about the tech-design-arts in West Michigan. "It's really that you meet and start to talk with each other."
At the end of the hour-long "town hall meeting," knots of individuals had formed in lively conversations about rocketry, games, radio controlled electronics and other avocations. Ignoring the tornado warning sirens that blared last night in downtown Grand Rapids, the majority of the group continued their conversations at Founders Brewing Co. after the meeting.
The practice of making things by hand has always been part of American life, Dougherty said, but it has been de-emphasized as individuals spend more of their creative energy building "virtual" things digitally using computers. "To some degree, we are kind of swimming upstream with our emphasis on making physical things," he said.
To both preserve and foster the spirit of making things, Dougherty launched the quarterly MAKE magazine/book in 2005 that gives step-by-step instructions and photos on everything from how to take aerial pictures using a kite to how to pour a concrete columns using fabrics as forms.
The magazine's publishing house, O'Reilly Media Inc., then discovered that avid readers wanted to meet each other face-to-face and compare notes on techniques and simply share their projects with each other.
That was the beginning of the first Maker Faire in San Mateo, Calif. in 2006.
"People are making a lot of wonderful things, but much of the time it is done in private, in a basement or garage," Doherty said. "He wanted to bring people together so they could share what they were doing.
And we didn't want to create a venue where people would just drop things off at a fairground. You naturally want to talk to the person that made the project so you can learn about how it was done and share a bit of their energy and passion. It's the kind of conversation that works for 6-year olds and 60 -year olds."
Buoyed by a success of the Maker Faire Bay Area, O'Reilly Media last year launched similar fairs in Detroit and New York. The Maker Faire Detroit will be held July 30-31 at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn.
Dougherty spoke with optimism about the fact that social media has made it much easier for tinkerers to connect with one another, and attendee Dawn Edwards said she was prime example of the new connectivity.
"I learned about this meeting from my friend Nicola -- who is in Ireland," said Edwards, a Plainwell resident who makes apparel from felt in her business, Felt So Right. "She sent me the information and asked: "You are planning to go to this, right?'"
Dougherty's message resonated with self-described serial entrepreneur Eric Baculy, who brought his Ring Fling game from Cedar Springs to the town hall meeting for everyone to see. Baculy lamented the fact that kids may have forgotten how to make simple toys such as paper footballs and "cootie catchers."
As if to demonstrate that all is not lost, local freelance writer Ruth Terry fashioned a paper cootie catcher at Founders Brewing and adorned a toy with multicolored words and numbers in foreign languages. Inside the catcher were fortunes penned by attendees of the meeting.
Terry then preceded to read Dougherty's fortune. His future: "You will attend the Maker Faire this year."