Pulling off a three-day Virtual Maker Faire in the midst of a pandemic is a feat; keeping the making going all year long takes vision and dedication. The team at Miami’s Moonlighter FabLab—co-founders Tom & Daisy Pupo and “Mario The Maker” Cruz—have done all that (and more) and are keeping busy as 2021 unfolds. In anticipation of Miami Make Week, April 12-17th, which celebrates and connects the local maker community with workshops, studio tours, STEAM sessions, and presentations, we caught up with them to learn more about how they keep all the balls in the air and what drives their collaboration and passion for making, makers and making a difference.
First, a bit about their home base. Located in Miami’s Wynwood Arts District, Moonlighter FabLab is a membership-based digital fabrication lab (and part of the Fab Lab network).
Founded by Tom and Daisy Pupo, their mission is to connect local needs to local talent for high-impact social projects across South Florida by merging design, community, and education. With programs ranging from summer camp to space tech, Moonlighter not only provides access to advanced equipment for personal manufacturing (3D printing, laser cutting, CNC Milling, Electronics, Vinyl Cutting, Sewing, Woodworking, etc.), they are also driven by a strong community ethic to serve and inspire the diverse population of the region.
As they get ready to host and support South Florida’s vibrant maker community in the coming weeks, the Moonlighter team is also guiding students through two recent initiatives: the Growing Beyond Earth contest and the Little Architects Design Studio.
Now in its second year, Growing Beyond Earth’s mission is to crowdsource prototypes for The Plant Growing Chamber on the International Space Station. Miami’s Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden has been working with NASA to identify specific plant varieties ideal to feed ISS astronauts. They partnered with Moonlighter (and IMLS, Nation of Makers, Adadruit, Instructables, MakerBot, and littleBits|Sphero) to host a series of maker contests on Make: Projects to solve specific space farming challenges. Read more about the project HERE.
Little Architects Design Studio is an 8-week virtual program designed to introduce young students to Architectural concepts and skills in a fun, collaborative, and hands-on experience! Students will learn drawing techniques, 3D modeling software, how to build prototype models, and so much more. Hosted on Maker Campus, the program exemplifies Moonlighter’s goal to empower kids through design thinking and hands-on learning.
They are also deep into the planning of their 2nd Virtual Maker Faire Miami—coming this Fall—and plotting a 2022 in-person event. In 2019, the Moonlighter team took over the production of Maker Faire Miami and have never looked back. In particular, they have cultivated both strong STEAM learning workshops and interactions for local students and bringing in inspiring makers from around the world, like Anouk Wipprecht and Esteffanie Explains It All as Mario’s synopsis of the event noted. And they were ready for more: “With the end of a successful Faire weekend, Mario the Maker is already thinking up how to make next year even bigger—bringing in more schools and makers to participate and getting local tech experts to mentor ongoing maker projects.”
2020 turned out to have different ideas entirely. Not to be daunted, the team reimagined their event.
“After postponing the event twice, we had numerous meetings about the role of Maker Faire Miami in the community and its responsibility to adapt and continue to fulfill its mission. It was clear that the pandemic was not a temporary disruption, and that it required us to work on re-imagining the experiences at Maker Faire Miami to be virtual. So, we reached out to the community to hear what they needed from the event and got a resounding “YES, PLEASE!” Read about their experience producing Virtual Maker Faire Miami 2020 and catch some of the amazing content the Moonlighter team curated for the interactive experience on YouTube.
Community support was central for Moonlighter in 2020 as they joined the many others across the Maker Movement in supporting the creation and distribution of PPE. As Tom noted of the experience, “We were extremely proud to be a part of the OSMS PPE effort. We partnered with so many organizations and independent makers across South Florida and collectively, between this project and others that were lead by different organizations, we created and distributed over 18,000 pieces of PPE. In a year that was fraught with so many challenges – collective making was a solution that healed the soul!”
The also developed hands-on learning programs to support the many kids out of school and away from both social support and opportunities for making. As Mario wrote in a 2016 thinkpiece, Let’s make Miami a Maker town!, local organization need to step up and fill the gap so kids get the opportunity and experience of experimentation. “The shop classes we all participated in when we were in school are nearly extinct, and there are little to no digital fabrication classes to take their place. Moonlighter and Learn01 have added summer camps, workshops, after-school classes, and events to fill the gap, but we have a long way to go before 3D printing and Raspberry Pi become household names.”
What keeps Mario, Tom & Daisy doing what they do? We asked them some classic spotlight questions to find out.
What’s your day job?
Mario is the CTO Watsco Ventures, which helps HVAC/R entrepreneurs innovate and to grow their businesses.
Tom & Daisy are the Co-Founders of Moonlighter FabLab.
What kinds of stuff do you make?
Mario: “Almost anything that catches my interest, mostly today, is things running Circuit Python. I think it has never been easier to get started creating an IoT or personal project.”
Tom & Daisy: “We build pop-up public spaces using our CNC and other digital fabrication tools. We have a course in partnership with The Idea Center MDC where we teach students the fundamentals of Tactical Urbanism and Digital Fabrication which culminates in building a full scale pop-up design in a public space. We also make more makers through our annual Maker Faire Miami event, through our PD program in partnership with MakerEd, our AIR Residency program, and our Summer STEAM Maker Camp!”
How did you get started making stuff?
Mario: “As a kid I would take things apart and mostly put them back together. Then started fixing musical instrument and building computers and then I was hooked.”
Tom & Daisy: “We both grew up in handy households. Our childhoods were filled with many opportunities to be an assistant to our parents for home projects and such. This was reinforced when we studied architecture – always building prototypes and scale models, experimenting with technologies and materials. Making has been a common thread our entire lives.”
What is next on your project list?
Mario: “We are working on more Maker Activities for In-Person, Hybrid, and Virtual Instruction that teachers can accomplish from K-12. Also, making kits to help get more kids into Growing Beyond earth projects.”
Tom & Daisy: “We are about to unveil the new Innovation Studio at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden – dedicated to prototyping new designs for growing plants in space. So the immediate next projects will be related to the annual Maker Challenge that’s live on Make:Projects. Phase 1 presentations for those teams will be happening during Miami Make Week April 12-17. We’ll also have lots of workshops and local maker highlights celebrating our Miami Maker Community. We are also so inspired by organizations like The Maker Effect Foundation and OpenWorks that are leading the charge in fabricating desks for at-home learners. We are working on building up capacity to join the fray and create these resources for students in South Florida.”
What is something you’d like to work with but you haven’t yet?
Mario: “I am creating my own PCBs using Bantam PCB Milling Machine and not having to wait for a 3rdparty vendor. I have done a simple one recently but would like to use this to make more prototypes and faster.”
Tom & Daisy: “We’d love to experiment with 3D printed concrete structures. The technology is fascinating at such a large scale. We invested in a small 3D potter to get used to a clay material first and hopefully one day work our way up.”
Any advice for people reading this?
Mario: “The best way to get started making something is to begin.”
Tom & Daisy: “Make the leap, collaborate, get projects done, and reflect. The leap is first and most important because often people don’t do something simply out of fear. Fear that they don’t know how to do it, or won’t be able to. Trust yourself and make the leap – you’ll figure it out! Collaborate is next because part of figuring it out is asking for help! You’re not going to be an expert at everything and when you work with someone else, you learn new things while also possibly making the thing even better than you had imagined it! Lots of solutions unlock themselves with a fresh pair of eyes and another mind at work! Then get the project done. We know so many makers with the weight of dread from the long list of unfinished projects they have piled up. As makers, we see opportunity in everything so we are tempted to get involved in so many different projects. Setting a deadline and seeing it through no matter how hard it is will help you get it done. Lastly, make sure you catalog your work! Take really nice photos and video. Write about it. I know, it seems like an extra bit of work after doing an enormous undertaking – but trust us, its worth it. You never know who will see your work and get inspired to make something themselves, or who’ll reach out to you with an opportunity because they like what you do. And often, when we scroll through our own work, we remind ourselves that we can do it – which leads us to taking another leap!”