When Maker Faire Pittsburgh unfurls its colorful banners and unpacks the bots and balloons on the North Side this October, it will be official (as if it wasn’t already): Pittsburgh will be a fully-fledged American Maker City.
Never mind that our love affair with making predates the rest of the country as forgers of glass, steel and industrial products. Advances in technology are creating new opportunities in places like Pittsburgh, President Obama said during his visit to TechShop in Bakery Square last year, and putting manufacturing power “in the hands of anybody who’s got a good idea.”
Maker Faire Pittsburgh will be a celebration of good ideas, a high-energy carnival packed with entrepreneurial, can-do spirit. More than 200 tech tinkerers, craftspeople, designers and inventors of all ages will come together for a two-day, family-friendly festival of making. Exhibitions, hands-on workshops and performances will spread out on the grounds of the Buhl Community Park and Nova Place, an urban redevelopment project in the midst of its own remaking.
“It will be one big celebration,” says Chad Elish of Hack Pittsburgh. Elish was the force behind the first three three mini-maker faires that were held in Pittsburgh over the last five years. Those venues were smaller and quieter by comparison, he says.
“We never thought in our wildest dreams that this would grow to this size when we created it five years ago,” he says. “This is a game-changer. Pittsburgh is becoming a tech hub, a Silicon Valley of the east coast.”
Maker Faire began in the Bay Area in 2006 as a showcase of makers exploring new forms and technologies on the cutting-edge; it attracted a crowd of more than 22,000. Since then, the movement has spread across the country and around the world with events in New York City, Detroit, Rome and Paris.
This will be the first large-scale, national maker Faire to be held in Pennsylvania, says Donna Goyak who is organizing the event on behalf of the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh. (The Children’s Museum is producing the event under a license agreement with Maker Media, Inc., in partnership with Faros Properties, Innovation Works, the City of Pittsburgh and other partners.)
Billed as the “greatest show (and tell) on Earth,” the weekend promises an interactive mix of exhibits, workshops and performances. “We expect the audience will be a highly curious lot,” says Goyak. “The making will be highly participatory, fun and informative.”
On a late summer day in September, Goyak was out surveying the event space with Jeremy Leventhal, managing partner of Faros. “Imagine this area completely filled with makers,” she said gesturing wildly to the area around her the size of two football fields. “It will be the largest showcase of making, building and creating that Pittsburgh has ever seen.”
The faire will take place between Buhl Community Park and Nova Place, an urban redevelopment project by Faros Properties adjacent to the former Allegheny Mall. Faros is infusing new life into the vacant office building, an eyesore for 10 years, and turning it into a 33-acre global campus for high tech companies.
Over the next year, Faros plans to turn the ugly sea of asphalt into a public green space with landscaping and benches. The two office buildings will provide space for companies, a workspace for entrepreneurs, called Alloy 26 and a wellness and fitness center. Radiant Hall has opened a 7,000-square-foot art studio and exhibition space, which will be open on Maker Faire day.
This is the first of many large events at the innovation complex, says Leventhal. “We’re trying to build our own microcosm of a community into an existing community and have it become a resource for the whole area.”
The Pittsburgh Maker Faire will have a distinctly different flavor than other faires in the country, says Goyak. It will reflect the people and initiatives underway in the region. Robotics, naturally, will take center stage. There will be opportunities to try driverless vehicle technologies and STEAM learning activities.
Expect lots of university research, activities that feature educational initiatives and groundbreaking local startups.
Want to operate a Ferrari Italia toy car using hand gestures and voice control? Meet pet creatures at a robot petting zoo? Learn about drones and make and buy 3D jewelry? Join tech shop teachers and build dinosaur puppets or design a giant Spirograph? Opportunities abound through make-and-take activities that use recycled materials, vinyl cutters, electronics and more.
More than 60 indie crafters and makers will sell their wares in an open air market located near the misting fountain in Buhl Plaza. Assemble director Nina Barbuto is organizing the market and operating an exhibit that will teach youngsters how to make LED pins in the education area, she says.
“Maker Faire Pittsburgh is about making the difference, not just about making things,” says Barbuto. “People here are empowered to change the existing, create the new and showcase and share it.”
Les Gies of TechShop has watched the maker movement gain momentum and take off through the last decade. “Our history goes hand-in-hand with the technology revolution we’re seeing in the maker movement,” he says. “The pulse of the city is powerful.”
The inaugural Maker Faire Pittsburgh will be held on Saturday, October 10, and Sunday, October 11, from 10 am to 5 pm. on Pittsburgh’s Northside. The event is sponsored by Chevron and Make with major support from The Grable Foundation. The event is produced by the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh in partnership with Faros Properties, the City of Pittsburgh, Innovation Works, Hack Pittsburgh, Assemble, Tech Shop Pittsburgh and Urban Innovation 21. To buy tickets or volunteer, click here.
This article is part of the Remake Learning initiative, a multimedia partnership between NEXTpittsburgh and WQED Multimedia, Pittsburgh Magazine and WESA. Check out their stories on Learning Innovation in Pittsburgh.