Maker Faires, Maker Spaces: a movement made for local techies

Last week the Blandin Broadband Communities met in St Cloud to talk about the projects that were recently funded through the Blandin Foundation and projects that might get funded in the future. I was thrilled to hear several folks talk about Maker Spaces. You can hear about what folks in the meeting said…

Maker Faires (and Spaces) are simply places where folks who like to build, invent or innovate hang out to share tools and knowledge and sometimes just hang out with other folks who like to build, invent or innovate. There are a couple Maker Spaces in the Twin Cities. Duluth opened one last fall – it sounds like much of the equipment in Duluth is shared via members or has been created and/or fixed up by members as need and opportunity have arisen.

The spaces have equipment such as 3D printers and CNC machines. Some technology features or is made better with broadband. But some is pretty old school – think woodworking. The idea of open source (plans and lessons) have opened up the idea of make. I think – especially in rural areas – that the Maker Movement is an opportunity to marry old school and new technology. Think of the usefulness of a local, shared 3D printer for printing tractor parts. Or lessons in canning. Or learning about Arduino and how to turn a rotary phone in a mobile phone.

I’d love to see more Maker Spaces in rural area – or maybe to test the water, I’d love to see Maker Faires. I’ve spent the last two weekends at Maker Faires in the Cities. I thought it might be helpful to share a bit about the day to give an idea of what the movement is all about. (If nothing else it can serve as a laundry list of things to explore this summer.) First I attended with my 10 year old, who is a hands on kind of girl, my brother who is a chef and woodworker and my dad who owned a software company most of my life. So there’s really something for everyone.

One big draw for all of us was the 3D printer. I’ve seen them but it’s always interesting to learn more about how they work. I heard two good descriptions: it’s like a CNC machine, only the printer adds, where CNC deletes. AND it’s acts like a hot glue gun.

We also saw CNC machine, laser cutters, drills, lathes and lots of other stuff I think of as manufacturing equipment. It’s cool to think of having access to those things.

Robotics was another big draw. My 10 year old is draw to anything robotic. There were spaces and team out recruiting. We saw robot wars setups and mobile computers on wheels that interacted with the attedees.

For us the biggest draws were Arduino and Virtual Reality. Arduino is an open-source electronics platform based on easy-to-use hardware and software. It’s intended for anyone making interactive projects. I think we helped talk the local Arduino user group into have a starter day. (Because we need to “start” again.)

Best Buy was showcasing their virtual reality headset – but it was an affordable model, set up like Google Cardboard where the goggles really just hold and frame a smartphone with a VR app. Getting a chance to use a “real VR headset” was enough to convince my 10 year old to come home and finish assembling our half-done Google Cardboard.

There were also trebuchets, hot glue guns for anyone to use, potato guns, jewelry making kits, all sorts of make-do ovens and more. There are Maker Faires happening all summer – in Kansas City, Milwaukee and other close-ish places. Maybe next year we’ll have more in Minnesota.

This entry was posted in Blandin Foundation, economic development, MN by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (, hosts a radio show on MN music (, supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota ( and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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