When people ask me to talk about “The Maker Movement”, one of the first things I usually say is that it doesn’t exist.
This might sound a little awkward, considering I’ve been coordinating and producing the Sydney Mini Maker Faire at the Powerhouse Museum (now the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences) since 2013, but I have good reasons for saying this.
For one, makers have been around for a really long time – be they backyard tinkerers, part-time craftspeople, or a casual knitter. You probably are related to such a person, or might even identify as one yourself. But the trend of people gathering together to showcase their projects to each other dates back to around the 1950’s.
With the rise of publications like Make magazine (which subsequently spawned the Maker Faire*), disparate communities of people who had been working in small groups were suddenly thrust into the limelight. Combine this with online marketplaces like Etsy, crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Pozible, and a wealth of cheap domestic manufacturing technologies, and suddenly the thing you did as a hobby could now provide you with a legitimate source of income.
So why would an institution like the Powerhouse Museum want anything to do with such a minefield of allegiances? I think the strength lies in the breadth of these communities and their practices, along with the speed with which they can react to trends. Most importantly, there is a commonality amongst all participants – a desire to share ideas, and to take that knowledge back into their own works.
This constant iteration is unusual within a museum environment; the first Sydney Mini Maker Faire came together in a period of five months, whereas some exhibitions can be planned out years in advance. And audiences respond to the dynamic nature of the projects on display, comfortable in the knowledge that when they return to see subsequent Faires they’ll always experience new.
Many museums, libraries and even schools are now experimenting with establishing their own makerspaces. While this might seem like merely following a trend, the symbolism of such a space in these institutions can’t be understated. Traditionally, these organisations are about the transmission of knowledge from “professionals” and “experts” to an audience of willing learners. A makerspace disrupts this flow of knowledge, turning an audience of passive receptors into active participants in the knowledge exchange.
For the Powerhouse Museum, with a strong focus on design and innovation, advocating those developing at a grass-roots level is a no-brainer. Staring at the hundreds of projects I’ve seen through the Mini Maker Faire, I’ve often wondered if these will one day end up in the Powerhouse’s collection – ready to inspire a new generation of tinkerers.
* I’m often asked why Faire is spelled with an e. While I’ve not seen an official reason for this, in French Faire means do or make. Thus, Maker Faire is a play on words.