There’s an undeniable magic that happens when you showcase the tech-infused creativity of the Maker Movement against the backdrop of a two-and-half-thousand-year-old city. The Eternal City is home to the largest gathering of Makers in Europe: Maker Faire Rome, taking place this weekend, October 16–18.
For their inaugural event, not quite certain if the term Maker would even resonate, the organizers were thrilled to host nearly 35,000 attendees. Evidence that inspiration travels like wildfire, that number grew astronomically to nearly 90,000 fairgoers last year. Now in its third year, the Faire galvanized 1,300 Makers to apply to exhibit, of which 600 projects were chosen and will be on display.
Interview with Massimo Banzi and Riccardo Luna
Organized by Asset Camera, a Special Agency of the Chamber of Commerce of Rome, Maker Faire Rome attracts Makers from all over Europe. Two key players in the inception and organization of the event are co-curators Massimo Banzi and Riccardo Luna (pictured below, at left and right, respectively). Banzi is an interaction designer, educator, open source hardware advocate, and the cofounder of the Arduino project. Luna is a writer and editor who, among many other things, spent 10 years at La Repubblica before launching and editing three other newspapers: Campus, Il Romanista and Wired; he’s also president of Wikitalia. No one has a better vantage point of the evolution of Maker Faire Rome than these gentlemen, so we asked them for an inside view.
Take us back to 2013. What series of events led to the conceptualization and realization of the inaugural Maker Faire Rome?
Massimo Banzi: Having been to a number of Maker Faires, I felt it was important to have this event in Europe, the same size as the Maker Faires in the U.S. I started talking to Riccardo about it, and he found an entity interested in being a partner. Bootstrapping a big Maker Faire is an expensive task because of the complex logistics and number of people involved. We were also quite lucky that a number of important global companies, like Intel, decided to support the event, so we knew we were off to a good start.
Riccardo Luna: In 2011 I had left my position as founding editor of Wired Italy. One of my last endeavors running the magazine was to curate Stazione Futuro, a pretty big exhibition in Turin, about the near-future of Italy. I remember that I had invited Massimo to organize a small temporary fab lab. For nine months following, it was so successful that on February 14, 2012, in Turin, Massimo and the Italian Arduino community opened the first fab lab. A couple of months afterwards, in Rome, I curated a one-day event branding, for the first time, the word Makers in the headline. Together with Massimo, the speakers were Dale Dougherty, Chris Anderson, and many more. It was an astounding success. I remember on the same day I was asking Dale, “Why not a real Maker Faire in Rome?” That was probably the very beginning.
From the beginning, did you set out to create the largest Maker Faire in Europe? How did you attract participants from so many different countries?
Banzi: To me, it was important to have a European event. If you end up having only people from one country, you don’t help the interaction between Makers that brings about collaborations and also business opportunities. We used a variety of ways to get people involved. Being the cofounder of Arduino, I have access to a lot of people and I started talking about it incessantly. We used our social channels to push the message and I mentioned it in every single presentation or interview I gave for a year before the event. We had a small team of ambassadors who spread the word in their countries. Riccardo had the idea to send a duo of a journalist and a videographer to drive an RV around Europe for three months to meet Maker communities. They sent back a lot of amazing reports that we published on the website. This contributed to creating local awareness and support. It was a concerted effort of a lot of people who wanted Maker Faire Rome to succeed.
Luna: The European perspective has been critical from the very beginning. We didn’t want to organize a small, local Maker Faire just for Italians, but instead we wanted to attract the best Makers from the whole continent to come to Rome. Times are changing rapidly, and just three years ago Makers were still a pretty unknown niche in Europe, so we decided to go and meet them door-to-door. We rented a van and sent two brilliant videographers, Alice Lizza and Davide Starinieri, to drive all the way to Finland, visiting fab labs and makerspaces along the way. For 90 days, daily video blogs were published, and in the end you really get the feeling that something new and important was going to happen from the bottom up.
What are some of your most memorable moments from the first two years?
Banzi: The first year, I was worried people would not understand and we would have very few visitors, but seeing thousands of people queuing up under the rain to get into the Maker Faire made me understand that something new was happening. People really wanted to see something that would give them hope in the future, something positive to show their children. At some point, the police had to come and manage the crowd because they were blocking traffic. The second year, seeing 15,000 students show up in one day was both impressive and challenging.
Luna: People. Faces. Kids. Thousands of happy kids. And happy, astonished parents. We were astonished, too. In 2013, it was pretty rainy and all of us on the team thought the event was going to be just a “nice” success. We could not believe our eyes when we saw a line circling twice around the building of the Faire.
Having attended and participated in numerous Maker Faires across the globe, what would you say uniquely defines Maker Faire Rome?
Banzi: We try to cater to a wider definition of Maker, which is also more in tune with some of the classic Italian traditions. I believe we have more space dedicated to design and fashion, for example. We also make an explicit effort to get Makers and small enterprises to come in contact and collaborate.
Luna: I’ve only visited the Maker Faires in San Mateo, California, and New York, so my comparison is limited to these great benchmarks. I can tell that the one in San Mateo is probably more fun in the Burning Man style; the one in New York looks more geared toward kids in a science museum; while Rome is very international, very European (one third of the exhibitors). And most of all, I think it’s quite unexpected to see “the future” in Rome. The Eternal City is celebrated for the past, but it’s even more attractive during Maker Faire.
Maker Faire Rome is one of the few Faires where the hosting city takes an active role in the Faire. How does that affect the event?
Banzi: Massimiliano Colella does an amazing job at connecting with the city and local entities on top of being in charge of organization. I’m not too involved in that process.
Luna: Maker Faire Rome would not exist without the daily push and commitment of the Chamber of Commerce of Rome and its private company Asset Camera, run by Massimiliano Colella. He is the person who started the whole project together with me and Massimo. The endorsement of the other local institutions (the mayor, governor, etc) has been growing year after year.
What are you doing differently this year?
Banzi: Every year we experiment with widening the definition of Maker and trying to involve more and more people from Italy so that they get the benefit of meeting people from all over the world. We also changed the way we organize talks.
Luna: Lots of things. Soon after the end of the past edition, we’ve decided to take a participatory approach, engaging many different communities in the design of the next event. I think in the end, the visitors’ experience will be much better and more fun.
Rome is known worldwide for so many things. What characteristics or aesthetics are prevalent in the Rome Maker community?
Luna: I would say education, openness, and design. All the fab labs and the makerspaces are really doing a great job, but I think they will be even more effective if they start playing together.
Being so involved in varied aspects of innovation, what excites you most about the future of the Movement?
Banzi: I’m very excited about international collaboration, seeing Makers from different parts of the world come together and find ways to work together. It’s also amazing to see people who were just presenting a prototype at Maker Faire Rome 2013 show up as a fully functional and bootstrapped company. There has been a lot of growth and I’m glad I was able to contribute to that.
Luna: That it is here to stay and to change our world in a very unexpected way. This is not just a very fun hobby — it’s the new way of the manufacturing industry.
Maker Sampler: 15 Exhibits on Display at Maker Faire Rome 2015
With over 600 exhibits slated for this weekend, it’s not easy to pick just a handful, but this random sampling should give you an idea of the breadth and variety of projects showcased, European style. Luna shares, “Having read and studied all 1,300 of the applications, it was really difficult to select only 600 exhibitors because the average quality of the projects is improving very rapidly.”
Be sure to check out the full list of Makers, a breakdown of the many Pavilions, details on the Kids Area, Maker Music Area, the Opening Conference (entitled “Life with Machines”) on Friday, the Made in Rome speaker showcase, as well as a robust Workshop schedule for all the information you need.