The mile-high city of Denver, Colorado, has grown exponentially in the past 20 years, and is, in fact, one of the fastest growing cities in the United States. Right alongside that growth has been the steadily flourishing maker community. This year, the city will host its fourth Maker Faire, scaling up considerably from the three previous Denver Mini Maker Faires to the first full-sized featured Maker Faire Denver, taking place October 14 and 15.
In discussion with two members of the organizing team, Elise VanDyne and Mark Moffett, on the topic of emerging themes, they noted the prevalence of female makers who are movers and shakers in the community. We connected with three of these inspiring women to glean insight on how they got started making and their unique perspectives on the Maker Movement. First, let’s get introduced.
Tell us about your organization and how it impacts the Maker Movement.
Arieann: At Kitables we celebrate “The Middle,” that place between idea and success where all the struggle, fetal positions, joy, and growth happens. What doesn’t happen in life is someone just sitting on the couch one day and then all of a sudden getting up and starting to take their car apart or building a company. There are tiny confidence-building steps along the way that are necessary, the opportunities for which are ever-dwindling. At Kitables, we give people the confidence to build by lowering the barrier to projects by providing DIY kits in a variety of fields, everything from electronics, woodworking, and cooking for ages 8-80+.
Additionally, we produce custom kits directly for businesses seeking unique efforts to reach customers on both a physical and emotional level. We’ve developed kits for global businesses such as Arrow Electronics and Pinterest. We’ve also added an event series called Build-n-Brews (think paint and wine nights but with beer and quadcopters). They give people a “safe space” to mess up and go through that “middle” process with friends while enjoying an adult beverage (or not).
Janet: BLDG 61 is a library makerspace providing free access to equipment and maker education in an inclusive and inspiring environment. The stuff includes a full woodshop, CNC machine, laser cutters, fiber arts equipment, industrial sewing machine, vinyl cutter, 3D printers, screen printing press, electronics workbench, and more. But it’s the culture that really defines us. We’re constantly thinking about how to include and celebrate as many voices in our community as possible in our space. In our first year, we ran over 400 programs with two full-time staff and reached over 16,000 people.
Some of our special programs I’ve initiated include working with individuals who are currently homeless and helping them transition back into the workforce through woodworking. I’ve also developed a design-thinking internship program for Latina youth and economically disadvantaged teens. I think this impacts the larger movement by creating a citizenship of critically thinking and impassioned makers from all backgrounds. We’ve seen over 10 startups emerge and unexpected people collaborate all the time in our space.
BLDG 61 is redefining what library resources look like in a radical way. Around here, we like to say, shhh, we’re about to start the table saw.
Karen: Colorado Maker Hub produced Colorado’s first Maker Faire (NoCo Mini Maker Faire) in 2013, and we haven’t stopped since! We’re a very small and scrappy organization who, enthusiastically, will be producing our 9th Maker Faire this fall, Maker Faire Denver, the first featured Maker Faire in the Mountain Time zone.
Colorado Maker Hub is, perhaps, unique in that we are producers of Maker Faires, programming, and other events in Colorado, but we’re not associated with a brick-and-mortar institution such as a library, makerspace, or museum. We’re independent humans who started with the idea that bringing area makers together and encouraging local makerspaces to interact and share resources and knowledge with each other, we would be able to grow the movement in Colorado and create opportunities for makers.
Since 2013, we have provided opportunity to find funding, promotional spots in print, radio and TV, and enormous networking opportunities through The Rocky Mountain Makerspace Summit, Sparks & Spirits, Maker Faire, other smaller events throughout the year, and our personal and professional contacts. When opportunity presents itself that could potentially help the maker community, our default answer is “Yes!” and then we work out how exactly to implement afterwards!
We impact the Maker Movement by making building accessible to all and encouraging people to become better problem solvers regardless of career path or age.
How did you become a member of the maker community?
Arieann: “Officially” I would say it was 2013 or 2014 when I was working for another startup. I went to my first Maker Faire and was like, “Woah, wait, so I’m not the only weirdo who likes building stuff for the hell of it.” I actually ended up doing an Ignite talk on that experience and the impact it had.
Janet: Through libraries! Libraries became my platform to connect with other makers, educators, and facilitators and make some serious noise in 2013, when I became a teen librarian.
Karen: At the time, I never really considered myself a maker, but I did start sewing at a young age, first with doll clothes, followed by clothes for me, in questionable fashion styles, which I proudly wore to junior high school. Sadly, making slowed down for me as I travelled the traditional school/college/corporate job path. Then years later, my sister, a maker, started talking to me about this awesome new magazine called Make:, this new thing called Maker Faire in San Francisco she insisted I come visit to see, and this new place called TechShop being built. I started a subscription to Make: but didn’t prioritize making anything new (other than sewing fun stuff). Every year, sis would invite me to Maker Faire. It took six more years to finally get to Maker Faire Bay Area and for me to wonder why Colorado didn’t yet have a Maker Faire. And in 2013, I was introduced, through a mutual friend, to Elise VanDyne, and we changed all that by producing Colorado’s first Mini Maker Faire, and we’ve been making Maker Faires ever since.
What’s your earliest maker memory?
Arieann: Pretty sure I was born building. I don’t have an exact memory, but I grew up in a blue collar household and spent my childhood on construction sites digging ditches and working on machines that ranged from dirt bikes to a twin prop plane. Because of this, I gained the ability to not be afraid of messing with anything, and I also gained a massive amount of confidence at an early age—so much so that I’ve been told I “don’t see boundaries.” I don’t see any reason why I cant do anything (it’s a blessing/curse thing—I’m injured and out of money a lot), which is probably why I grew up and started a company to gives others the same confidence.
Janet: My grandfather’s basement. As a young kid, I remember walking down the steep stairs to the shop and being greeted by the distinct smell of cut wood and machines. I loved playing with cutoffs in the scrap pile and would always pocket some to take home. My grandfather is a master woodworker and has an industrious hands-on fix-it approach to life. He continues to serve as a mentor for me in the woodshop.
Also, this isn’t my earliest memory by a long stretch, but it’s a moment that stands out for me as a maker pursuing separate degrees in engineering and art because there were no interdisciplinary programs at my college at the time. I was taking a Strength of Materials course, and met with the professor after class to discuss a different answer I got for a problem. Instead of describing why my answer was incorrect, my professor pointed out that there is no single correct answer to any design problem. It’s a spectrum of answers where creativity, aesthetics, economy of labor, efficiency of material, and connection to place should all be considered. That changed my perspective at a moment that I had originally considered engineering an analytical track. This led me to merge my two areas of study in my final thesis through a design-build sculptural project. Making was the link between art and engineering for me.
Karen: My mom ran a daycare from the house, and I always remember having some craft, game, toy, or musical instrument in my hands. An early specific memory was around 5 years old, making Christmas ornaments at a youth group with my mom: classic clothespin angels!
What do you think is the greatest value of the Maker Movement?
Arieann: To me, the Maker Movement is not about the stuff we make — it’s about the underlying emotional drivers for the people who make those things. It’s a group of people who make stuff for the hell of it. Think about how many other places you can say that about in our current world — not many. Everyone is to busy doing what they should be doing to play around and explore. That’s what the Movement is to me: it’s about exploration and doing things for fun because you can or want to. People who do that are the people who change the world.
Janet: Removing barriers to education. We have an opportunity to redefine our educational system in spaces like BLDG 61, where people of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds can come together, be curious, gain access to specialized equipment, and learn at no cost.
Karen: The Maker Movement to me is the ultimate safe place for experimentation. Truly, everyone is welcome. No other organization, school, association, or group I have experience with has been this sincerely welcoming to people of all disciplines, ages, experience levels, cognitive abilities, interests, countries of origin, income levels, races, religions, genders, dietary needs, political preferences, or physical abilities. All are welcome.
What are the advantages and challenges of being a woman in the maker community?
Arieann: None that I am aware of, but then again that’s probably because of my inability to see boundaries and accept them. I know they exist, but I just don’t let them affect me. I mean, sure, I’ve been in makerspaces where a good amount of mansplaining was attempted, but I don’t let it get to me. I know that I know what I’m doing, and that’s what matters. This summer, I was at a global conference giving a talk, and afterwards, a women asks, “What about glass ceilings for women in the workplace?” My response was, “There aren’t any glass ceilings when you build the building. I build, and I build the world that I want for myself and other women/everyone.
Janet: At times, my ideas can be dismissed, especially regarding technical or maintenance issues in the shop. Sometimes I’m met with skepticism that I know how to do certain things. I remember showing a few men how to replace the belt on the drum sander, and they disregarded my instruction, only to struggle for 20 minutes before asking again for my guidance. On the plus side, I’m fairly disarming as a facilitator. I can help encourage young women (and men!) to discover their passions and stick with challenging problems. It’s essential to consider different perspectives, points of access, and diversity when running a makerspace.
Karen: I honestly haven’t found any distinct advantages or disadvantages of being a women in the maker community. The community is truly open to anyone. If you’re a human, you’re welcome into the Maker Movement. Being a mechanical engineer, female, and working well over a decade in corporate America has hardened me such that it’s a breath of fresh air, and I see great opportunity in the Maker Movement for all genders.
What motivates you to be a member of the maker community?
Arieann: To give people the confidence to problem-solve and build bigger and better things, whether that be a project, a company, or a community.
Janet: There are two things humans are exceptional at: making things and telling stories. The maker community honors both. This motivates me immensely because it means I’m constantly learning new things and connecting with people in new ways.
Karen: I come from a manufacturing background, and there are fewer people who are interested in that type of work anymore, it seems. Working with your hands keeps both the mind and body sharp and fit. Working with your hands empowers one with the tools to build something from scratch. Working with your hands creates experiences and knowledge that cannot be taught in school. Working with your hands, mind, and heart, among teammates and friends, to create something that wasn’t there before builds communities into places where change is not feared but rather expected and part of everyday life. What will you make today?
What’s your favorite experiment gone wrong? Did you find a solution?
Arieann: OMG, I can’t even pick one. Besides being a serial entrepreneur (I consider companies “experiments on a large scale”), I was also a PhD-level biochemist for eight years, so I’ve messed up countless things and wasted sooo much time and money. I guess one that sticks out is the one that was the hardest to swallow. I was six months into this drug efficacy test I was doing for pancreatic cancer back in my first year as a PhD student. I realized one day that the math I had done to figure out the dilution series of the drugs was off by a whole decimal point. I literally spent a day staring at the screen trying to figure out if I should run away or cover it up because the data was useless. I just wasted six months and untold sums of money, and I had to say that to my boss. After much panicking, I finally walked into the office with my tail between my legs and told her what I had done. She looked at me and was like, “Okay, well, do it again.” She wasn’t even phased, and I thought for sure at that point I had ended my career in that lab. That was one of those confidence-building things for me, knowing that I could mess up six months of work and just pick it back up like nothing happened the next day.
Janet: Troubleshooting is one of the best co-learning opportunities in maker education. So when a project doesn’t go as expected, I like to change the conversation from fixing a problem to finding a creative solution. The last day of a teen internship, we were in chaos mode finishing up electronics projects, and I had a teen ask me for construction help with a disco ball she was working on programming with LEDs and a 360 servo. The project was mounted in such a way that the wires were over-twisting. I had thought of a few ideas to brainstorm with her on how to redesign the base structure, but by the time I checked back in with her, she had reprogrammed her Arduino to work with a 180 servo, which resolved the issue in a totally different way. It was simple, elegant, and brilliant!
Karen: We were planning our very first Mini Maker Faire and estimated we would have between 60 and 70 makers. We had 140 and quickly adjusted to a Faire twice the size!
Any interesting facts we should know about you?
Arieann: I literally live in someone’s garage in Boulder because despite what people may have told you about startup life, the first 5ish years are not so glamorous. Also I’m an avid outdoor person. I was a competitive rock climber, I mountain bike, hike, surf, and have added triathlons now as well — basically, anything that carries the threat of real injury both mental or physical, I’m into.
Janet: I learned woodworking from my grandfather — living in his home for a year and a half, working 8-10 hours every day in his basement shop and learning traditional American joinery techniques. I also biked across the U.S. with my mom when I was 16.
Karen: Every car I’ve ever owned and driven has been one with a manual transmission. If I’m nearby and you need an additional person to move, swap, pick up, or relocate a standard transmission vehicle, I’m your gal.
Meet these and a host of other inspiring makers at this year’s Maker Faire Denver!