The Good People of Maker Faire Austin 2017

Maker News
The Good People of Maker Faire Austin 2017
Maker Faire Austin co-producer Joey Ficklin (left) with drone racing zone organizer.

Austin, Texas is one of those towns that when you visit, it makes you consider moving there.  Such nice watering holes (swimming and cocktails), warm nights, good food, and an appreciation of fun.  Austin makes my home region’s (the Bay Area) obsession with work seem a little shortsighted.

You could feel this at Maker Faire Austin at the Palmer Center last weekend.  So easy!  Makers so warm and friendly and charming, with so much talent to share.   Really high quality Maker Faire content ranged from fabulous installation and performance (Total Unicorn! Vision Gland!), hands on making, startups and small biz, makerspaces (ATX Hackerspace! The Robot Group!), tons of Lego, craft vendors, kooky fun installations (Power Tool Drag Racing! art cars!).  The Drone Racing zone was especially impressive, and it was no demonstration:  this was an invitational of advanced pilots competing for first place.  But no matter the subject, the mood uniformly relaxed and open.

It could be the town vibe, but it’s got to also be the Faire leadership.  Maker Faire Austin is truly a community-led event.  Kami Wilt (pictured below, 3rd from right), founder and chief maker behind the Austin Tinkering School, has been the primary driver behind the Faire since 2012. And then this year, cabinet maker / musician / family man / force of nature Joey Ficklin (pictured, top left)  joined as co-producer.  This very Austin dynamic duo and their loyal circle of volunteers are in it for the makers, and and their enthusiasm and personal connection to the maker community permeate every corner of the show.

For example:  Joey’s brother and maker celeb Jared Ficklin not only brought three large and amazing installations to the Faire, but his product design company, argodesign, also sponsored a Saturday night party—bringing in even more exhibits to play with—and raised $10,000 for Girls Who Code. !

Team Ficklin installing the Zen Gardener

Another example:  Bernadette Noll, incorrigible textile hacker and Maker Faire Austin collaborator since 2012, produces the impressive “SwitchAndStitch” textile hacking zone at the Faire.  This year she also took on organizing Project Maker, a Project Runway-style competition with restyle challenges. People worked all day and made amazing things for the runway competition.

Bernadette, the deserving recipient of an Editor’s Choice Blue Ribbon.

Even Faire sponsor Intel’s booth was really about the makers of Intel, 10+ individuals or team showing projects they submitted to an internal Call for Makers.  Intern Rita Kambil converted a classic 1951 Singer sewing machine into a computerized embroidery machine using the company’s Edison Arduino breakout board.

If there was a “headliner” at Maker Faire Austin, it was Sean Di Ianni, Chief Operating Officer of the legendary Meow Wolf, a production company creating crazy, large-scale and large-budget immersive art experiences. Sean walked the audience through the evolution of Meow Wolf’s work, including the bona fide Santa Fe tourist attraction, The House of Eternal Return.  Sean shared some insight into how such a large team stays organized AND creative, and an update on their search for a building to host a new attraction in Austin (still seeking!).

Austin fire artist and all-around maker Tim Deagan showed off a lovely assortment of fire pieces that had enough gumption to impress even in the middle of the day.  (Of course evenings are always nicer!)  Tim has not only been a “cornerstone” at Maker Faire Austin, he also serves as the Faire team’s fire and safety expert.

This balloon “couture” dress was an onsite weekend collaboration by well-known Austin balloon guy Nate the Great and his protege, Balloons by Pineapple. The dress was ready to model for the 5 pm Sunday evening news:

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Julio Rodriguez shared a prototype of his Bright Water Bottle, the world’s first illuminated water bottle.  The goal is to keep cyclists safe and hydrated.

Jimmy Cox is founder of Rockdale Tiger Flight, a club of High School and Jr High students learning the skills to build an airplane. The current project is building an RV-6 all metal 2-seat airplane. The young man pictured below showed me the riveting process, step by step. What a cool project!

CLAW Amusement Technologies is an Austin-based company that design and build electronic and mechanical arcade-style games and amusements. Alan Watts (pictured, below) is a software developer that likes to get 3D with detailed, high-finish homemade arcade games.  They are gorgeous!

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Point in case about the warmth:  what other Maker Faire happens over Mother’s Day that celebrates with FREE MASSAGES for moms???  What a brilliant idea.  Lindsey here graced me with her great hands and eight minutes of bliss.

Take a look at ALL of these beauties below.  These people INSPIRE!  Thank you GOOD PEOPLE of Maker Faire Austin!  See you next year.





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Sabrina is the Maker Faire Program Director. She works on stage content for the flagship fairs (Bay Area & New York), and also runs Maker Faire's global licensing program for locally and independently produced Maker Faires. She also co-creates the East Bay Mini Maker Faire in her town, Oakland, CA.

View more articles by Sabrina Merlo
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