It was almost four years ago when I first heard about the Maker Faire. I was working with Time Warner Cable, and we were looking for ways to work with Science City at Union Station as part of the company’s Connect a Million Minds initiative. When the first Maker Faire came to Kansas City in 2011, I knew what was coming and yet even I was unprepared for the enthusiasm and excitement the event created.
In just three years, Kansas City and Maker Faire have proven to be a great match. This year’s event featured more than 300 makers, attracted a record of nearly 16,000 attendees and ranked as one of the largest maker celebrations in the nation. I was humbled and honored the organizers of this year’s Maker Fair asked me to emcee the Innovation Stage in the Grand Hall. It was an incredible weekend, and I wanted to share a couple of my thoughts and observations from this year’s stage speakers, presentations and forums.
The headliner of the stage with the largest crowds of the weekend was Hollywood visual effects expert Fon Davis. Davis has worked on dozens of Hollywood films, most notably the “Star Wars” special editions of the original trilogy as well as Episodes I-III. He’s also worked on films such as “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” “The Matrix” films and this summer’s “Guardians of the Galaxy.”
Davis’ Saturday discussion of his work, special effects and model making was a real treat, and certainly worth the price of admission. It was fun to learn the tricks film makers use to make movie magic and hear stories from behind the scenes of some of my favorite movies. On Sunday was a presentation Davis delivered for the first time about stop-motion filmmaking, and it was equally intriguing. It made me want to try and make my own stop-motion movies.
There were two forums that absolutely deserved a bigger audience, and both were on Sunday morning. First up was the Maker Cities discussion with “Make:” magazine founder Dale Dougherty and executive-turned-writer Travis Good. As the founder of “Make:” and an inspiration of the Maker Faire movement, Dougherty is for all intents and purposes the grandfather of the Kansas City Maker Faire. I was fortunate enough to meet Dougherty at the first Kansas City Maker Faire, and it was great to get his impressions of how the event has developed over the last few years.
The Maker Cities discussion touched on a number of topics related to what goes into creating a “maker city,” both from a private as well as a public perspective. Dougherty and Good agreed that they think Kansas City is further ahead than many other metro areas, but there are still opportunities. I wish that elected officials on both sides of the state line were on hand to hear their message about how cities can foster a maker community. It also made me think that the maker movement in Kansas City needs to better tell its story about the economic impact it has on the region. So much public attention goes to large companies that support jobs in the region, but too often too little attention is given to the smaller entrepreneurs and “makers” that collective are delivering a substantial impact on our community and our economy.
The other delight on Sunday morning was the Maker Families panel. I had the opportunity to meet Ted Brull and his dad Rich, Joey Huddy and his mom Julie and Abi Hodson and her mom Sarah. It was an absolute treat to hear Ted, Joey and Abi tell their stories about how they became interested in making and the support they receive from their families. To me, it also underscored the importance to let kids experience science, technology and making — you never know what will inspire a young person to discover their true love, whether it’s a future profession or just a lifelong hobby.
A great success story from the stage was learning about Voltset. Voltset recently completed an extremely successful Kickstarter campaign that raised more than $100,000, nearly twice the original goal. They are developing a module that connects to a smartphone to turn it into a small and efficient multimeter to measure current, voltage and resistance.
Another personal favorite was a discussion of the upcoming documentary “Print the Legend” premiering later this year on Netflix. The film has a Kansas City flavor, and several locals involved in the film took part in a panel. Among them were producers Chad Troutwine and Rafi Chaudry, who also produced the documentary “Freakonomics,” and 3D printing wizard Michael Curry, who is interview in the film. It was intriguing to hear them talk about the film, which takes a look at the behind the scenes drama, intrigue and ethics of the world of 3D printing.
I also greatly enjoyed the Maker Spaces panel, which touched on locations where makers in Kansas City can connect with peers, education and resources. The Maker Fair also helped launch the new Maker Map KC website where you can learn more about local maker spaces. Another great panel was the Maker Education discussion with Dougherty, professor Mike Neden from Pittsburg State University, Time Warner Cable’s Perry Watson and Science City’s Ryan Bell. Science City has a fabulous maker space to check out.
On a couple of personal notes, I also had the chance to catch up with some old friends who are also makers. When I was with the Home Builders Association of Greater Kansas City helping produce the HOME SHOW at Bartle Hall, one of our best stage seminar presenters was Leanne Lee. Lee is also know as the Diva of DIY in Kansas City, and her website and Facebook page a are a great follow for do-it-yourselfers around the house. I also caught up with Curt McMillan, who I also collaborated with at the HBA. Curt is now part of the Steel Table Group maker team in Kansas City, as well as president of the Inventors Center of Kansas City. It was so much fun to see my friends be such a big part of the local maker community.
When we signed up to take part in the first Kansas City Maker Faire, we could only dream about what it could become to day. I’m grateful that Science City, Union Station, the Kauffman Foundation and sponsors such as Time Warner Cable believed in this event and have made it such an outstanding success in a short period of time.