After a number of years as part of the August Foo Fest, the Rhode Island Mini-Maker Faire (MMF) is moving to the June PVD Fest, still in close collaboration with local arts collective AS220. Among other changes, the move allows MMF to expand its hours; the event now runs from 1 – 8pm on Saturday, June 3, which is the third day of the four-day PVD Fest.
MMF describes itself on its website as “a gathering of fascinating, curious people who enjoy learning and who love sharing what they can do. From engineers to artists to scientists to crafters, Maker Faire is a venue for these ‘makers’ to show hobbies, experiments, projects.” Participating maker activities range from 3D printing and interactive robotics to beer homebrewing.
MMF volunteer producer and AS220 board member Brian Jepson, although emphasizing he was speaking personally and not on behalf of AS220, explained that MMF is produced under license from Maker Media, the publisher of the bi-monthly Make: Magazine. Jepson also coordinates the call for makers.
Asked about the new MMF affiliation with PVD Fest, Jepson said, “We started out as part of WaterFire, and that was really intense, very high-energy – it typically ended up being a much later event further into the evening. Foo Fest has been really cool, but there are limits. The physical space we were in is limited, although for the past couple of years we’ve overflowed into Foo Fest. But we also have the matter of people’s time: Foo Fest is an all-hands-on-deck production for AS220, whereas the Mini-Maker Faire is a pretty large event. We actually did have it separate from Foo Fest in 2014. So the opportunity came up, there was a conversation between someone from the city and someone from AS220 about the Mini-Maker Faire and what it is, what it means to the city. The mayor [Jorge Elorza] has been really interested in embracing, and very active in embracing, the maker movement for the city. And so it just seemed like making this part of PVD Fest yet still having it be an event that AS220 is involved in the production of is just a great fit.”
Jepson cited two particular historical examples of Rhode Island contributors to the Industrial Revolution, the more well known Samuel Slater and the less well known George H. Corliss who, Jepson said, “didn’t invent the steam engine but he essentially, for all intents and purposes, perfected it. He made it practical. He made the modern factory, as we know it, possible. We’re going to be in the old ProJo parking lot in the shadow of the George Corliss mural — a picture of Corliss’ Centennial Engine, which was his giant, freaking, 70-foot-high, dual-chambered, dual-powered, engine that powered the Machinery Hall of the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876. I feel great about this. The city has been great to work with. It’s really going to elevate the awareness of the Mini-Maker Faire, and we just couldn’t be more excited to have it be part of this.”
Other sponsors include Johnson and Wales University, whom Jepson called the “anchor sponsor with a big exhibit,” as well as 3DPVD from Ocean State Maker Mill. The Rhode Island Computer Museum will demonstrate Solidworks for Kids, which Jepson described as a “softer, squishier,” kid-friendly version of the widely used industrial 3D-modeling software.
Dan Berman, curator of the RI Computer Museum, said, “At Mini-Maker Faire, we’re going to be there with one of our partners, Dassault Systems, and they’re going to show off their Solidworks app, which is just for kids.” Berman continued, “What we’re going to to do is show off some of the little robots that we have the kids make at our facility, and probably have some breadboards and let them make very simple, basic circuits. We’re teaching them how to make a traffic light. We’ll have some LEDs and some resistors and some batteries, and then we’ll have a couple of Arduinos and if they want to stay around they can hook it up to an Arduino, and then if they want to go further we can hook it up to a Raspberry Pi and let them try to do some programming…”
In his experience, young children take to this technology, Berman said. “Our ‘clientele’ are anywhere from 6 to 12. We have had older ones, too, but it’s the little kids that really like it.” He said that the Scratch programming environment, designed at MIT to allow visual programming by drag-and-drop with elements such as “move forward” or “rotate right,” is an effective entry into learning the concepts of programming. “What we try to do is teach them some of the basics of Scratch with the drag and drop, and then we can get them onto the Arduino and they can turn the lights on and off and make a sequence on the lights in Scratch. From there, we take it and turn it into the Arduino code and show, ‘See, this is what you had in Scratch,’ this line of code, it says the same thing as it says in Scratch. So it’s a transition that we’re trying to show them how you can go from the Scratch language into the Arduino language into the Python for Raspberry Pi language.” Ideas about teaching programming have changed a lot over the past few decades, he said. “It’s funny how I’m a little older here – I’m 65 – and our first learning of code was a lot harder than for them. Two-year-olds will be swiping phones, so they have some of those concepts already embedded in their brain.”
“AS220 Industries,” said its director Shawn Wallace, “which is the Fab Lab and the Print Shop and the Media Arts Program, we’re doing something with [projection beam] in the parking lot next to AS220 Industries,” after dark on Friday, June 2, and Saturday, June 3. “It will be a bunch of artists showing stuff … doing some projection mapping on the side of the building.” He refers to the Mercantile Block at 131 Washington St, PVD. “We have a 20,000-lumen projector and we’ll be showing artwork, working with Dennis Hlynsky who teaches at RISD [and who] created a 3D model of the side of the building. And we have special projection mapping software called ‘Mad Mapper’ to combine video plus a 3D model and create interesting effects,” Wallace said. “Projection mapping is a whole emerging field of artistic exploration now.”
In addition to opening its own facilities to the public, Wallace said, “Our Print Shop will show off various printmaking processes, and we do an ‘exquisite corpse’ with relief printing. We’ll bring some of our relief presses out onto the street, and a bunch of artists have made their linoleum cuts and wood cuts of different body parts and features, so somebody who is coming to PVD Fest can lay up a figure and do a relief press onto a T-shirt,” confirming a more literal use of the term “exquisite corpse” than is usually encountered.
“Mini-Maker Faire is one of the ways we connect with the larger maker movement, other people organizing on a global scale. There are Mini-Maker Faires happening all over the place. So I see it in a bigger picture in that sense: This is our local contribution to the global maker effort.” Wallace said that a significant achievement of the AS220 Fab Lab was its “Fab Academy,” the Providence participant in a worldwide, distributed educational network. “To me personally, it’s not so much about the making side of things, but it’s more about the sharing component. That’s what I think is important about what’s called the ‘maker movement.’ It’s not about 3D printers or anything specific, but what’s important is that people are collaborating on a massive scale and sharing inventions and ideas. Historically there hasn’t been a massive interconnection of people sharing ideas, it’s never happened before, that’s what in my mind is interesting about it and what’s important about it.”