North Little Rock’s downtown Argenta area will play host to central Arkansas’ first Maker Faire festival, the fast-growing, tech-inspired movement that bills itself as the “greatest show (and tell) on earth.”
Joel Gordon, director of The Launch Pad at the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub, said North Little Rock was selected to host the one-day science, art and technology-focused event on Saturday, May 2, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Gordon said the festival, which will be sponsored by the Innovation Hub, the Argenta Arts Foundation and the City of North Little Rock, is planning for a large crowd of more than 3,000 people.
Gordon said the submission process for getting the rights to hold a Maker Faire event was exhaustive and time-consuming.
“We applied and re-applied, then we did paperwork and some more paperwork, and then we exchanged emails for several weeks, and then we re-applied again and they said ‘OK’,” he laughed, explaining the application process.
And now that North Little Rock has been selected as a host, Gordon said, the next step is to seek sponsors for the late spring event and spread the news to get people near and far to attend. “We hope to attract people from across the state of Arkansas to as far as the (San Francisco) Bay area,” he tells Talk Business & Politics.
Since the launch of the first Maker Faire in the Silicon Valley area in 2006, Maker Faire has evolved into an all-ages gathering of tech enthusiasts, crafters, educators, tinkerers, hobbyists, engineers, science clubs, authors, artists, students, and commercial exhibitors, organizers say.
Today, according to Gordon, there are Maker Faire festivals of all sizes. For example, the first one in Arkansas, a mini Maker Faire, was held at the Rogers Library in Northwest Arkansas last summer. Flagship Maker Faires are held in San Mateo, Calif., Detroit and New York City. The New York Maker Faire is also known as the “World Maker Faire.”
In 2013, organizers say a record 195,000 people attended the two flagship events in the Bay area and New York in 2013. In addition, 98 independently-produced mini and featured Maker Faires festivals were held around the world, including Tokyo, Rome, Santiago, Brazil and Oslo, Norway.
“The Maker Faire community has really broadened over the last few years,” Gordon said.
Also, when it first started nearly a decade ago, Maker Faire was primarily designed to be forward-looking, showcasing makers who are exploring new forms and new technologies, organizers said. But in the past few years, it has evolved into a must-see event where inventors and tinkerers feature innovation and experimentation across the spectrum of science, engineering, art, performance and craft.
In addition, organizers say, the Maker Faire community has spawned a new generation of STEM-focused youth inventors, and brought together legions of so-called “makers” to participate in hands-on activities and learn new skills at several Maker Faire events across the U.S. and internationally.
Gordon said the North Little Rock event is in the early planning stages. But, he was excited to announce that the Central Arkansas event will feature “Power Tool Drag Racing,” a Maker Faire staple where common power tools like belt sanders and chain saws are reconfigured and altered into race cars that zoom down a wooden track. In addition, there will be a local art exhibit of “tiny houses” made from recyclable materials to highlight the plight of homelessness in Central Arkansas.
In addition to the strange and bizarre, Maker Faire events are also a great place for job networking and career preparation for school-aged students to see how their skills can translate into an engineering or science-related career, Gordon said.
“We will have a little bit of everything, from silly inventions to discussions on career readiness,” he said. “And everybody in the community of Argenta is very excited.”
As the festival gets nearer, Gordon said the Innovation Hub will be making announcements about some of the exhibitions, workshops, demonstrations and Do-It-Yourself competitions that will take place at the summer event.