Fun fact: The city of Pittsburgh has 300 steel-related businesses and 446 bridges. Located a few minutes away from downtown Pittsburgh, across any of several bridges, is one of the preeminent advocates for and thought leaders in experiential learning for children, the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh (CMP). Not only do the vast majority of their exhibits offer hands-on components, but they also have an in-house dedicated makerspace named Makeshop, complete with real tools for kids for any age, big and small.
We spoke with CMP’s Bill Schlageter, who explains how it all began:
In 2010, we began to explore the idea of creating a permanent makerspace in our museum — a space for children and families to make, play, and design using the same materials, tools, and processes used by professional artists, builders, programmers, and creators of all kinds. It was also then that we first began to seriously consider producing a Maker Faire. As our planning for the opening of this new permanent makerspace moved forward, we felt that the perfect complement to opening Makeshop on October 22, 2011, would be to host a Mini Maker Faire the next day on October 23, 2011. And it was!
That year, they coordinated 70 Maker exhibits and drew 1,215 attendees. The Pittsburgh Mini Maker Faire grew steadily over the next two years to 1,832 attendees in 2013. CMP held off on hosting a Faire in 2014, but they’re back this year and going big, upscaling from a Mini to a featured Maker Faire and hosting an impressive 230 Maker exhibits.
Schlageter gives the backstory:
We took a year off from producing a Maker Faire to strategize how to move forward. We were becoming known more and more as a nationally recognized leader in connecting the Maker Movement to the informal learning sphere on both local and national levels, and in 2014 the Children’s Museum was awarded a federal grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to lead a national initiative for the development of makerspaces in museums and libraries across the country. Makeshop was also recognized by the White House and the U.S. Deputy Director for Technology and Innovation as an innovative leader for the Maker Education Movement at the 2014 National Day of Making. For those reasons and the ongoing growth of Pittsburgh’s independent Maker community, as well as increased activity in the arena of Pittsburgh’s entrepreneurial startups, we felt that 2015 would be a good year to upscale our Faire.
Maker Faire Pittsburgh 2015
The first full-scale Maker Faire Pittsburgh will take place this weekend, October 10 and 11, across CMP, Nova Place, and Buhl Community Park. To plan the Faire, CMP assembled a committee with a broad representation from Pittsburgh’s Maker and entrepreneurial communities, including HackPittsburgh, Assemble, TechShop Pittsburgh, Urban Innovation21, and Innovation Works. Through their input and networks, CMP was able to expand their reach for Maker Faire Pittsburgh.
This year, in addition to Maker exhibits, the Faire will offer a greatly increased number and variety of special performances, speakers, demonstrations, and workshops. There is a jam-packed schedule for both Saturday and Sunday. In addition, there will be a dedicated Education Zone featuring a series of presentations and hands-on workshops on how to incorporate making and STEAM in primary, secondary, and post-secondary education; an Innovation Works Zone, showcasing 10 groundbreaking startups from across the region; a dedicated Workshop area with hands-on sessions on subjects ranging from coding to concrete; and The Market, where fairgoers can peruse locally made wares and support the local handmade economy.
5 Questions on CMP and the Pittsburgh Maker Community
We continue our conversation with CMP’s Bill Schlageter:
What effect has hosting a Faire had on the Pittsburgh Maker community?
Our partnerships with our neighbor Faros Properties and with the City of Pittsburgh has allowed us to not only physically expand the footprint of the Faire, but just as importantly, these partnerships have helped us create new relationships that will benefit our immediate neighborhood as well as the region. Further, increased media attention to Maker Faire Pittsburgh has resulted in helping Maker organizations and startups expand their audience and customer reach. With so many more Maker organizations represented at our Faire, we feel the general public has gained/gains/will gain a greater understanding of making, and by so doing are inspired to become makers themselves.
Tell us a little about the maker community in Pittsburgh.
Vibrant, diverse, eager for an opportunity to showcase the work they do and meet Makers of all stripes with whom they can collaborate. Pittsburgh’s Maker community has a strong representation in the K–12 and higher education communities, along with a heavy robotics contingent.
With deep roots in the steel industry and manufacturing of all types, Pittsburgh has always been a “Maker City.” Now, 21st-century Pittsburgh Makers draw their inspiration from that proud history and pride themselves on their independent/shared innovation, creativity, entrepreneurism, and tech savviness.
CMP is a leader in experiential learning experiences for children. Tell us a bit more about the ethos and mission of the museum.
CMP’s mission is to provide innovative museum experiences that inspire joy, creativity, and curiosity. In 2010, the museum began to work with Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center and the University of Pittsburgh Center for Learning in Out-of-School Environments to envision a space designed to challenge and nurture the creative interests of the museum’s visitors using physical and digital technologies.
This enabled CMP to marry the strength of its “play with real stuff” philosophy with technology, visitor-generated content, and informal learning research and evaluation. This active partnership fosters organizational learning, strengthens institutional capacity, and creates an innovative space for informal visitor learning. In addition to CMP’s permanent Makeshop space, the museum’s Maker-focused initiatives include serving as a Maker Corps site for the Maker Education Initiative, Mobile Makeshop, Youth Maker workshops, and MAKEnight (21+) events.
In 2015, CMP, in partnership with Kickstarter and support from the Grable Foundation, began work with 10 schools in the Pittsburgh region to each launch a crowdfunding campaign as part of the museum’s initiative to integrate making into schools. Also in 2015, CMP, with support from the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation and Chevron, launched a new initiative to support the creation of a new West Virginia Maker Network. Partnering with The Education Alliance in West Virginia, CMP launched this initiative in August 2015 to provide professional development for educators and ongoing support in the creation of community-based makerspaces in both informal and formal educational sites in seven West Virginia counties.
How is this reflected in the Faire you organize?
In planning this year’s Faire, we’ve paid special attention to spotlighting education, specifically at the Education Institute that we’re hosting on October 9, on the Education stage at our Faire on October 10 and 11, and of course by including so many young Makers in the mix at our Faire.
What drives you to do the hard work of organizing a Maker Faire?
An ongoing interest in providing a platform to showcase the region’s Makers to the general public so that the Makers can display/share their talents and visitors can take imagining to the next step and become Makers themselves.
12 Super Fun Maker Exhibits
With over 200 Makers and a whole array of workshops and speakers, bored is definitely not something attendees will be. Here’s a sampling of 12 exhibits to find this weekend. Check out a full list of Makers, maps, and all the information you need to join the fun on the Maker Faire Pittsburgh site.
DIY Arduino Claw/Prize Machine
Musical Tesla Coil Controlled Like A Theremin
Control lightning with your hands! Play a musical Tesla coil by moving your hands in the air like an orchestra conductor, by HackPittsburgh
Cardboard dinosaurs of all sizes! Build your own dino hand puppet, try on a velociraptor or pterodactyl costume, or take a 15-foot-long Utahraptor for a walk! By Kit&Co
Design, Print, and Mold Chocolate Bars
Make your own chocolate bar: 3D CAD to 3D printer to vacuum former to chocolate bar to yum! By Robert Gould
The Great American Horn Machine
A three-ton collection of MIDI-controlled truck, train, and ship air horns and steam whistles, all mounted on a tandem-axle car trailer. By Dana Dolfi
The Light Lounge is a 6′×12′ programmable palette of shifting color and pattern, facilitated by 288 milk jugs, 576 RGB LEDs, and a Teensy microcontroller. Immerse yourself in a moving landscape of light inside the comfy blanket fort lounge! Phenomenal spot for selfies. By Fortress
An Ant’s Life
An Ant’s Life is a virtual reality storytelling world using the Oculus Rift and PS Move, created by graduate students at Carnegie Mellon University (Entertainment Technology Center). In this game, the guest controls an ant’s leaf raft in the rain, avoiding obstacles such as raindrops, birds, falling trash, and stomping feet. By Kyungik Lee, Cheryl-Jean Leo, Jingyu Liu, Eric Tsai, and Arim Yoon
Spin to Begin Creative Reuse Challenge
Take the Creative Reuse Challenge, where materials are chosen by chance! Put your Maker skills to the test: spin the three wheels to choose what materials you’ll get to use. By Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse
Concrete Casting Workshop
Participants will create a geometric mold, mix concrete, and cast their creation. By Pop Craft
The Importance of Human/Social Robot Interaction
Find out why humans love robots and how beneficial that love can be. By Fine Art Miracles, Inc.
Turtle Mail prints messages from children’s family and friends and brings their favorite toys and characters to life by delivering personalized mail based on their unique preferences. By AE Dreams
A Simon-like memory game with 16 buttons for up to four players of all ages. By Stuffed Cabbage Inc.