Maker Faire: Inventors, Innovators and Creators
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Part science fair, part county fair, this all-Ages gathering is sure to open your eyes to new ideas

By Dani Burlison

Every year, thousands flock to the two big annual Chevrolet-sponsored Maker Faires, dubbed “The Greatest Show (and Tell) on Earth,” to check out the latest inventions from tech enthusiasts, crafters, tinkerers, engineers, artists and commercial exhibitors. At this year’s festivals—in the San Francisco Bay Area May 18-19 and in New York September 21-22—the ecologically and technologically advanced Chevrolet Volt will once again be one of those forward-thinking inventions. You can even test-drive one on an on-site course.

These family-friendly, playfully innovative festivals launched in 2006 and quickly grew: By 2012, the flagship fairs (in San Francisco and New York) had grown from approximately 30,000 attendees in the first years to well over 100,000. Scores of offshoots—Mini Maker Faires—have sprung up as well, in American cities and around the globe. Last year there were 60; this year there will be more than 100.

The big draw for the masses seems to be that these fairs use the model of traditional community events—the inventors are present in person with their hands-on projects—but spice them up with modern twists. “We created this environment that actually goes back to the old county fair model where people like to come together,” says Maker Media’s Vice President, Sherry Huss, who curates the events.

The selection process for exhibitors—who are welcome to showcase inventions free of charge—is a complicated and time-consuming one, especially with nearly half of each year’s makers participating for the first time. But Huss doesn’t mind the extra work: “I have to say that Makers are just the best people in the world. This one morning in Detroit, it was raining when the news crew showed up—and there we were, sitting on couches inside the belly of a 64-foot, fire-breathing dragon, waiting for the rain to break. It was great morning news!”

Makers have brought everything from hands-on craft booths for re-purposing clothing to a life-size mousetrap. And while their inventions may not be as high-powered as what’s under the hood of a Volt, there’s usually a contingent of model-engine builders at the fair as well. One of the many new things planned for this year’s fairs is “Maker Spaces,” fanciful structures that are riffs of one sort or another on model homes.

Attendees at Maker Faire are encouraged to ask questions and touch. Meanwhile, makers are encouraged to share their techniques and ideas with curious onlookers.

“Our goal is to make makers,” says Huss. “I think that as communities, people are sort of isolated, even isolated from the other people in their house around their hobbies and their interests. This is a way to show parents or family that what they do is valid.”

Huss adds that one of the Maker Faire’s tag lines—“Where It’s Cool to Be Smart”—came from a discussion between teens at a recent event. “I think these fairs are definitely culturally significant, and they’re changing people’s lives,” she says. “I can’t wait to see what the kids are going to do ten years from now. It’s going to be a better world because they’re thinking about things, and because they care.”

Volt owners have already driven more than 100,000,000 EV miles. That means saving gallons of gas and making a difference for the environment. Add the 273 lb.–ft. of low–end torque performance, stylish good looks, and all the high-tech amenities and you get a better understanding on how Volt is changing the way we drive.

Ready to ride into the future? Test-drive the new Chevrolet Volt at one of the Maker Faires or at a participating dealer near you.

The trademarks mentioned in this story are held by their respective owners.

Dani Burlison is a wannabe anthropologist who lives, writes, teaches writing workshops and entertains her children in Northern California.

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