Maker (Faire Producer) Spotlight: Ian Cole

Maker News
Maker (Faire Producer) Spotlight: Ian Cole

Ian Cole has been at the helm of Maker Faire Orlando, and its parent organization The Maker Effect Foundation, since its inception. While this spectacular, volunteer run event did not take place in November as usual, Ian has been no less busy manifesting maker experiences for others (and acting as a board member and advocate for makers across the U.S. through Nation of Makers).

Florida has more Maker Faires than nearly any other U.S. state (New York wins that prize) and Ian has been deeply involved in building that community, both within Orlando itself and by supporting other Maker Faires across the state. This ethic and the spirit of collegiality behind it shows in the choice the MFO team made this year:  Rather than pushing the event virtual, as many Maker Faires have done, Maker Faire Orlando decided to step back and keep things small and local under the logic that it is the community and the experiences it generates that make the event special, regardless of scale. And, also, that there was just an awful lot of Zoom going around. As such, they have have held several pop ups where makers share projects in an outdoor space (the parking lot of the MakerFX Makerspace) and a Maker Takeover at the Orlando Science Center on December 19th. MFO  have also fed the need of the strong local community of BattleBots enthusiasts—which included organizers & competitors from BattleBots teams Sporkinok, Extinguisher, and Kraken—with a modified (and live streamed on Twitch) Robot Ruckus that you can check out here.

Producing a Maker Faire, especially one the size of Maker Faire Orlando, builds some serious production chops. Earlier in the year, as uncertainty swirled around events across the globe, Ian and his team (including his wife and Maker Faire producing partner, Candy) spearheaded an organized maker response network to provide medical supplies across Central Florida, a region that by virtue of its large population of retirees, was caught in the crosshairs of the global PPE shortages. Revealing his genius at networking and motivating people to collaborate, Ian chose to focus on the distribution and supply chain aspects of the process, as opposed to producing PPE at scale within the MakerFX space. The civic response, ingenuity, and commitment of regional coordinators like Ian under Open Source Medical Supplies has not only served many frontline workers and at risk individuals, but also revealed the wellspring of distributed manufacturing and rapid prototyping that is one of the great success stories of the year (see our Plan C Live program for more maker civic response stories).

As if all this wasn’t enough AND because his recent projects capture the generosity (and sparkle) of the holiday spirit, we reached out to Ian to share with us some of the other work he’s been doing. In his day job, Ian works as Chief Innovation Officer at the whimsical nonprofit Give Kids The World Village, an 89-acre resort in Kissimmee, FL, that provides cost-free vacations to critically ill children and their families from around the world. This year, GKTW decided to do something new, both as a fundraiser for the community they serve, and to bring some holiday joy at the end of an undeniably challenging year. The result is Night of A Million Lights (actually 3+ million lights), a display across the entire GKTW campus that is ticketed and open to the public. Again, those Maker Faire production skills came in handy. “We’ve been closed since March due to the pandemic, and Night of a Million Lights was a way for us to fundraise while also driving significant awareness of our mission. This is the first time in the history of the Village that we’ve opened our gates to the public.  My past experience with Maker Faire Orlando was a huge benefit as we designed our ticketing and entry process as well as other aspects of large events that are open to the public.” Check out the aerial feature photo to get an idea of the sheer scale of this undertaking.

Here’s a behind the scenes look at the making of the light display:

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Ian has also been spearheading the Designer Desks project with partner the Boys and Girls Club of Central Florida. The project makes art desks for underprivileged youth in Central Florida at the MakerFX Makerspace. Each desk is stocked with art supplies and the intention of giving kids who don’t have it a space to create. Local artists have also decorated some of the desks before delivery. If you’d like to make and give desk of your own, the design is open source and available on GitHub. This project has an active fundraiser with all funds going to purchase wood and art supplies at a discount from local stores—you can donate here. Ian and the team are also available to share project details with those interested in setting up a chapter in their own city.

And because Maker Faire would hardly be Maker Faire without making, Ian and the MFO team have been bringing Learn-To-Solder badge making into the community. Through this new partnership with Boys & Girls Club of Central Florida, the MFO team created a new branded Learn-To-Solder badge for Boys & Girls Clubs, and have equipped the clubs with soldering stations from Adafruit, cutters, solder, solder braid, safety glasses and more. “We brainstormed how we could still teach more than 1,000 kids to solder without having our big Maker Faire Orlando event in 2020. This partnership came from that determination that we were still going to make an impact, even during a pandemic. With such an amazing partner in Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida, even more kids are learning to solder while not increasing their COVID risk – and we are already discussing how we get those kids to Maker Faire Orlando in the future!” If you would like to replicate this program with your local Boys & Girls Clubs, reach out to the Maker Faire Orlando team at

Not to be outshone by a mere 3 million lights, Ian has also been developing the BrightBikes project that inspires makers to create bikes festooned with interactive lights and meet up for rides.

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Want to make your own? Or start a ride group in your own community? Here’s the Bright Bikes repo on GitHub. Follow their Facebook page. You can find the process videos below on Maker Faire Orlando’s YouTube channel.

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As with all community projects, although Ian’s leadership is a secret sauce to getting them started and seeing them through, he notes that “they are only possible because of the ingenuity, generosity, and dedication of our amazing volunteer network, partnership with other local community organizations and with Orange County’s continued support of Arts & Culture through the pandemic.” It seems fitting to add here a standout statement on The Maker Effect website that embodies Ian’s collaboration (and the Maker Movement as a whole) with his community and the energy and heart he devotes to his many projects. “The Maker Effect is the sum of the personal growth, professional success, community development, and continuous innovation that results when makers learn, educate, share, and create together.”

Feature image from @bioreconstruct on Twitter, who shared night helicopter views of the GKTW Village on December 6th that really helps give you an idea of the scale of Night of A Million Lights.

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Jennifer Blakeslee keeps the Global Maker Faire program running smoothly and has been a maker at Maker Faire since 2011. Among other things, she really likes to travel, write, cook, hike, make big art, and swim in the ocean.

View more articles by Jennifer Blakeslee


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