One of my favorite exhibits at the New York Maker Faire was a musically meditative installation known as the Gamelatron. It is a series of gong-like drums called gamelans that create incredible tones. The environment of the tucked away patio where it was installed was shockingly peaceful, a feat that is difficult to achieve at a place where silence is nearly nonexistent, such as Maker Faire.
What is interesting about this specific piece of art is that the environment contributed so much to the experience. This piece could have been located anywhere, but it wouldn’t have had the same impact. The hidden nature and sudden lack of clamor had as much of a role to play as the piece itself. Let me show you what I mean.
When I mentioned this observation to Jay Kravitz, the person who determined the placement of this piece, a smile spread across his face and he said “Thank you!” As it turns out, he put a lot of thought and effort into placing this piece. “We fought hard to make it happen here,” he says.
The fact that the Gamelatron was a little bit hidden or easily overlooked in this location was intentional. As Kravitz pointed out, this piece wouldn’t have had the same psychological impact if it had been surrounded with a massive crowd of people. Kravitz was proud, and rightfully so, of the responses we were hearing from people as they discovered it. We kept hearing “Wow” and “It’s so soothing!” as people walked up. That is, when they weren’t just standing there in stunned silence.
I had been enlightened as to how the Maker Faire staff thought about these things. It isn’t as simple as dumping everything from a single category into a single area. You might assume that something like the 3D printer area or the home grown foods area are plopped in place without forethought, but you’d be wrong. Let’s look at home grown foods for example.
After hearing that there is a logical progression from soil to selling, it makes complete sense. I’ve walked through that area several times and things just felt right, my mind was following a timeline; Kim had done a good job.
What about areas where there is no logical progression? What about areas where you don’t have a big empty space to place things exactly as you want? The area inside of the New York Hall of Science is a good example of this. It is crammed with crafts, electronics, arcade games, and has a very unique environment.
Even the flow of how you will first see a room is considered. In this example, walking into Nick’s area is done by approaching a rail and looking over the room. The first thing I saw, as did many others, was the massive bear head. This was intentional and really helped segue into the area that Nick laid out.
Next I grabbed Kate Rowe, who does a huge job encompassing the end to end process of getting a booth into the Faire. She calls this Maker Exhibit Operations. I asked her about how conscious the placement is. I wasn’t interested in power requirements or tent size, but rather asking: Do the producers really think about people’s experience that much? Rowe explained that not only do they think about the people attending the Faire, but they put a lot of work into making sure the experience is good for those that have booths as well.
While the process has evolved over time and lessons have been learned about what works best in different ways, this process has been there since the beginning of the Faire. Louise Glasgow sat down for a few minutes to share how the very first Maker Faire was laid out with founder Dale Daugherty.
I should really note that this is just a small sampling of the people involved with the construction of Maker Faire. The list of passionate hard working people is very long and getting longer each year. Just keep in mind that the next time you wander into a Faire, you’re experiencing their art, even if you don’t know it.