Part science fair, part county fair, Maker Faire brings the maker movement to Grand Rapids

This summer, the West Michigan maker scene gets a makeover, as Mini Maker Faire comes to town and lets local inventors and innovators get in on a burgeoning national trend. Audria Larsen finds out why the event is a boon for creators and creatives of all ages and occupations.
Grand Rapids is a city of the arts. And through large scale events like ArtPrize and Festival of the Arts, our community is known for its creative leanings. But while vibrant murals are visibly enhancing the skyline, local innovators are injecting the sciences with a dose of imagination.
Launched in 2006 by the creators of MAKE magazine, the Maker Faire has become a self-described springboard for the worldwide maker movement, which fosters a science and technology approach to DIY (do it yourself) projects. In addition to the two flagship Maker Faires held yearly in the San Francisco Bay Area and New York City, there are six large-scale “featured” events, including one based in Detroit. As interest has spread, there are now specially licensed Mini Maker Faires, the first of which began in Ann Arbor in 2009.
Kate Moore, Grand Rapids Public MuseumThis summer, Grand Rapids Public Museum is set to host the first annual Grand Rapids Mini Maker Faire on August 30 and 31, in partnership with GR Makers, the Geek Group, Genesis Inc. and Grand Rapids Community College.
Described by the museum as “part science fair, part county fair and part something entirely new, Maker Faire is an all-ages gathering of tech enthusiasts, crafters, educators, tinkerers, hobbyists, engineers, science clubs, authors, artists, students, and commercial exhibitors. All of these “makers” come to Maker Faire to show what they have made and to share what they have learned.”

 “This year we really wanted to capitalize on the maker movement happening globally and locally,” says Kate Moore, vice president of marketing and public relations at the Grand Rapids Public Museum. “It’s growing nationally and really present here in Grand Rapids.”
When the museum began to set the process in motion to apply for a Mini Maker Faire license, the folks at GR Makers were also seeking to launch an event. “We decided to work together,” says Moore. 
Samuel Bowles, GR Makers“What we want to do with Maker Faire is invite the whole community of West Michigan into this conversation of what it means to be a maker and not just a consumer, but to be a participant,” says Samuel Bowles, vice president of GR Makers. “One of the reasons that [the GR Makers] are personally invested in Maker Faire coming to Grand Rapids is because [of] what it did for us. We went to the Maker Faire in the Bay Area, which is the largest in the world,” he says.
That experience helped shape the GR Makers group into what it is today and Grand Rapids’ inaugural faire is “about us paying it forward,” says Bowles, who is grateful for the community he encountered in California that helped pave the way and enabled him to bring his ideas to fruition. Through the local event, Bowles says he hopes to “expose more people to the different ways of making and inspire them to become involved in whatever way they choose, in creating for themselves and for others.”
Josh Spencer, The Geek GroupFor Josh Spencer, director of development at the Geek Group, the Grand Rapids Maker Faire is “an opportunity for people who have something they are interested in like robotics, and you can come and interact with it, or actually 3-D print something.” Spencer also believes that the event will draw people to the area and open up the movement to a wider audience.
At Geek Group we get to see it every day, but not everyone knows all the creativity happening in the science area and there are not a lot of venues to go see those types of things and be introduced into the various types of technology available,” says Spencer. “We have always wanted to do something big to show the community all the great ideas that people are working on…and we want to show that our local scientists and engineers are just as creative as the local artists.”
Through the Grand Rapids Mini Maker Faire, Spencer says, “we can show that everybody is a maker.”
Moss Ingram, GRCCThe goal is for each maker submission to be hands-on so the public can get involved. “I went to the Ann Arbor Mini Maker Faire,” says Moore. “I learned how to solder and there was a lock picking booth.”
At the Grand Rapids event, “makers will be there at all times manning the booths and talking about what they’ve done and what they are showcasing,” says Moore. Some possible submissions for the August event include a hand built submarine, portable blacksmithing, vortex cannons and 3-D printers, as well as small hobbyists works, student projects and more.
The call for maker submissions is open through August 1. It is free to exhibit works but there is a fee for creators who want to sell items. “We’re looking for something creative, science [related] and interactive,” says Moore. “It’s all part of our [museum’s] motto and mission, ‘inspiring passionate curiosity.’” Submissions can be a preexisting project or something specifically created for the event and crafted by anyone, from children to maker community enthusiasts or home garage tinkerers.
The two-day event will be held indoors and outdoors, utilizing much of the museum space including the Lacks Gallery, the front lawn, the planetarium, and even the café will become a galleria. Current museum exhibits will be open to the public as well, and attendees can enjoy expanded museum hours during that time.
August 30 – 31
Saturday 11:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Sunday 11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Adults $8 / Weekend Pass $14
Seniors $7 / Weekend Pass $12
Kids $3 / Weekend Pass $5
Free for Museum Members (please reserve a ticket)
Audria Larsen is a freelance writer, entrepreneur and professional entertainer. Her work has been published in Rapid Growth Media, Revue Magazine, Michigan Blue Magazine and She is the founder of Audacious Hoops, Grand Rapids' original "hula" hoop company and produces a myriad of art and entertainment ventures. 

Photography by Adam Bird