Arts & Culture

Maker Faire exhibitors display local innovation

AS220, R.I. Convention Center host local designers, inventors and educators

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Brian Jepson and Kipp Bradford’s organization, Revolution x Design, brought the first Maker Faire to Providence in 2009.

Colorful banners flapped in the rain Saturday morning, announcing the sixth annual Rhode Island Mini Maker Faire. The exhibition, attended by over 1,200 people, sprawled across four locations between the community arts center AS220 on Empire Street and the Rhode Island Convention Center on Adrian Hall Way.

Maker Faires — exhibitions of local designers, inventors, engineers, artists, educators and entrepreneurs — have cropped up at various national locations since their inception in the Bay Area in 2006. They are sponsored by Maker Media, a platform of hands-on tech makers.

“Remember all the nerdy kids in high school that were either doing science fairs or really into crafts? Now imagine them 15 years later,” said Jeff Del Papa, founder of the New England Rubbish Destruction Society and one of the event’s exhibitors. “They’ve gotten out of school, they have money and space, but they haven’t stopped building.”

Maker Media publisher and Rhode Island resident Brian Jepson co-founded Revolution x Design with Kipp Bradford to bring the first Maker Faire to Providence in 2009. This is the first year that the fair was organized in part by AS220, a community arts center located in downtown Providence.

A maker is “in a lot of ways someone who tries to take control of their life back from technology,” Jepson said. “They don’t want to be dominated by technology. They want to be in charge. So they make, they remake, they repurpose, they make things do something other than what they were originally intended to do.”

Almost 50 exhibitors presented Saturday, Jepson said. The participants responded to a public call for people who identify as makers. “AS220 is unjuried and uncensored, so we honor that by accepting everyone that it’s practical to accept,” he said of the application process.

The makers set up their exhibits among two AS220-owned indoor venues and two outdoor areas.

Though the outdoor makers endured a steady drizzle throughout the first part of the day, Jepson said the weather did not dampen spirits.

Del Papa’s main exhibit was a piece he called “Decisions, Decisions,” a giant coin flipper commissioned for the National Geographic television series “Going Deep with David Rees.” Kids lined up to pull a string that launched the steel catapult, throwing the manhole-sized quarter into the air.

Families flocked to the interactive aspects of the event, with hands-on activities including printmaking, origami, mini circuit soldering and Lego car racing.

Gary Deslaurier, a RISD graduate who said his work in design, invention and education gave him a feeling of camaraderie with other makers, was accompanied by his three children.

Deslaurier said he was inspired to build his own pinball machine after seeing engineer Dave Gaskill’s station of customized and refurbished retro pinball machines.

The 95 Empire location hosted exhibits on the 3-D printing movement.

“Some of us are real believers in this,” said Matt Stultz, organizer of 3-D Printing Providence, a community for 3-D printing enthusiasts. Stultz, who works as a software engineer, said he envisions a day when everyone will have a 3-D printer in their home.

“I tell people that the real reason that I’m interested in 3-D printing is I never want to do dishes again,” Stultz said. “I want to be able to print my dinner plate, eat my dinner and then toss it into a hopper that grinds it back up and removes any impurities. Then the next time I need another widget, or I need a mug, I can print it.”

“These guys are the story,” Jepson said of 3D Printing Providence, adding that he currently owns five 3-D printers.

“I think that the whole idea of having access to desktop manufacturing is going to change everything,” said Wayne Losey, chief creative of Modio, an app that allows users to design their own toys that they can print using 3-D printers. Losey was at the Maker Faire with displays of toy pieces made with the Modio technology, as well as information on how to download the app. “We give kids the tools to create their own toys,” he said.

Representatives from Destination Imagination, Rhode Island Museum of Science and Art and First Lego League also advertised their programs through interactive displays.

“We thought this would be a great place to come to connect with folks who are into creativity,” said Katie Jones, affiliate director for Rhode Island Destination Imagination.

For Jepson, the Maker Faire bears historical context, as well. “Rhode Island is where the American Industrial Revolution started,” he said. “It’s just a matter of bringing to the surface a modern representation and getting back to the state’s heritage as a maker state.”

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