Like nonvoters who complain about politicians, a lot of us complain about the consumer culture while feeling (or acting) helpless to do anything about it. Those who are doing something about it, though, are swelling the ranks of an underground "maker culture" that isn't so underground anymore.
And this do-it-yourself movement will show off its ingenuity Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 22-23, at the Central Florida Fairgrounds. This year's Maker Faire promises to be bigger than ever, renewing the faith that we can make, repair and invent right here in Central Florida.
In years past, the Orlando Science Center hosted this kaleidoscopic exhibit of craftsmen, designers, inventors, artists and techies, many from our own community. The four levels of the Science Center, awkward to navigate at the best of times, became choked with 3-D printers, ceramics, laser cutters and hacked household equipment. My son, an avid Science Center fan, commented after making soap at the first one: "Why can't the Science Center be like this all the time?" We left full of ideas and enthusiasm for art and science, and most of all we were inspired to realize that we have more control over our environment than we might think.
This year the Maker Faire has burgeoned to more than 200 exhibitors, with panel discussions, documentary films, combat robots, racing derbies, stage performances and more. Familiar faces abound: Doug Rhodehamel's fantastical cardboard sculpture will be here, along with FamiLab's crew and the Factur team. Orange County Public Schools will exhibit their fashion design students' work. A mysterious outfit called Fern Creek Electronics will debut a small aerial camera, perfect for tracking the moving subject of your choice. Long Haired Boy will demonstrate his unique electric skateboards. You can make leather shoes, axes, dresses or robots, or you can watch people other people do it. Or you can just watch the people – there's a heavy overlap between makers and steampunks, meaning you may spot some fairly elaborate Victorian-crossed-with-clockwork cosplay.
At $15 for a one-day adult pass, the entry fee is ridiculously low, compared to its value in inspiration. The Central Florida Fairgrounds has a relaxed feeling with its low-tech pole barns and huts, unlike uptight, too-precious hotel conference centers and other fancier venues. If anything, it may unleash a rush of creativity into the blood as you navigate through the souk of ideas that this meetup has come to represent. And that is the secret to the Maker Faire, produced by the local Maker Foundation. A coalition of educators, parents, and technologists, the Foundation's mission is to help people take ownership of their own future through the making of things.
We've suckled too long from the teat of large companies who make lots of things, but not particularly well. It's so easy to buy now, with a wave of your phone or one click in an app; but for many, consumption has become a real downer. The antidote is to make it yourself, controlling the resources you use and the waste that you throw off, and eliminating the injustice of a pitifully paid factory worker somewhere overseas. It is a radical idea, and to figure out where to start, the Maker Faire might give you some food for thought.