What happens when you teach a robot to shoot Frisbees? Find out in this episode of Technologist Talk Radio, set at the Southside Mini Maker Faire, a family-friendly showcase of invention, creativity and resourcefulness in Chicago. The episode celebrates the maker movement, and goes in-depth with the woman who is connecting her community to technology through the Southside Maker Faire.
At the Southside Mini Maker Faire, people get a chance to learn how things are made, and meet the people who put them together. The person who puts together the fair is Jackie Moore, who recognized the growing excitement around maker fairs and robotics, and used it to develop an annual event that helps her community get closer to technology.
“When I describe the Southside Mini Maker Faire, I go very Chicago-centric,” she said. “I say it’s like the Taste of Chicago, except instead of sampling food you’re sampling projects that people have made themselves. The metaphor is meaningful to everybody in the city.”
Her low-key approach helps people feel comfortable enough to show up at the maker faire, without having to know the technical details of inventions and feel intimidated about technology.
“Then if they tell me they’re going to Alice’s Bakery on Second Street, I’ll tell them, ‘There'll be someone at the Maker Faire who actually decorates cakes with a computer program,’” she said. “I try to find out what they’re interested in and link it to the event.”
The Maker Movement
The Southside Mini Maker Faire is part of a larger umbrella of making events. Back in 2006, the first official Maker Faire was held in the Bay Area, and showed people that making things was very popular. The fair sparked people’s interest in hands-on activities and learning new skills. They started doing more events; now there are almost 200 independent Mini Maker Faires across the world, from Tokyo to Barcelona to Kansas to, of course, Chicago.
The Southside Mini Maker Faire has been going on for six years now. In the years of the maker fair, kids interested in technology have experienced the magic of computer science with a magician called The Great Koba, flown drones over the area and explored different kinds of robotics. Everyone with a technology project comes out.
“We like to do it at the end of the summer so that kids can work on their projects during the summertime when they’re off from school. It happens in September usually, and there’s different booths with people showing different stuff they’ve made,” Moore said.
This year’s fair was held at the Woodson Library. Listen here for sights and sounds from the day. Stay tuned to the second part of the episode, where our correspondent Michelle Lange sits down with Moore to talk about why it’s important for kids to make things, and to show them off for other people.
“It gives them a boost of self-esteem,” Moore said. Her long-term goal is to build the Southside Mini Maker Faire into an event that reflects the Southside Chicago community. “With maker fairs you can create your own flavor. We’ve been doing it on the Southside of Chicago for six years so next year, maybe we’ll have the complete picture of Chicago. I’m almost there.”
For an inside look at the maker fair, plus ways groups like Creating IT Futures and TechGirlz actively work to bring underrepresented groups into technology, listen to this episode of Technologist Talk Radio.