Maker Faire Detroit mixes Motor City pride and ingenuity to create a singular event

One of the most fascinating things I saw at Maker Faire wasn’t the time machine, rolling cupcake or life-size Mousetrap game. It was the number of engineers in attendance.

The one-woman band, assigned to entertain us while said Mousetrap was being set up, asked the audience surrounded the mechanical monstrosity to raise their hand if they were an engineer. About 25 percent of the crowd put their paws up. Our hostess then announced: “Applause for these engineers. Because where would you be without them?”

Yes, Maker Faire is a mind-blowing tribute to people who tinker, play around and mix up some of the strangest machines around. They are inventive and innovative to the point of pointing and staring at all of the amazing displays present Saturday and Sunday at The Henry Ford in Dearborn.

More importantly, I believe, is that the engineering community was there. It was a tribute to the great minds that brought us toilets, automobiles, assembly lines and pretty much every other modern convenience we now enjoy. It was a place where they could let their inner madman or madwoman out. They could let their inner geek fly free. They could feel appreciated. How could we have a “Brain Drain” when there were so many brains walking around at Maker Faire? I’d say this is a prime reason for these great workers to stick around.

Maker Faire describes itself as “a family-fun festival to MAKE, create, learn, invent, CRAFT, recycle, build, think, play & be inspired by celebrating arts, crafts, engineering, food, music, science and technology.” It grew out of MAKE magazine, which focuses on this sort of DIY movement. Its first event was in San Francisco about six years ago. That first year, about 20,000 people came. This past event, more than 100,000 reportedly showed up. It just gets bigger and bigger.

According to The Henry Ford, more than 40,000 people have attended this two-day, family friendly festival since 2010. This year’s get-together is said to have featured more than 400 makers, tinkers and hackers displaying their wares, fares, ideas and inventions. And a few handlebar moustachioed hipsters…Bonus!

Here’s what I took away from this now annual Detroit event…You’ve got to support the things that make Metro Detroit great. Thank you to Dearborn for allowing strange things like a huge Mousetrap game to come into your humble city limits. Kudos to The Henry Ford for seeing something great in such an unconventional event – it is the perfect complement to the doers and achievers that are on display every day at your great institution.

And much should be said for the Makers themselves. Our party of four rambled about, inside and out, awed by all we saw. My husband gabbed it up with every robot maker there. My son played with Lego crossbows and got inspired to make his own GNK droid based on the models he saw on display. My 4-year-old daughter got to try silk screening thanks to the generous and talented folks over at the crazy cool Cyberoptix Tie Lab. They even gave the budding artist the poster she made, and it now hangs proudly in her bedroom.

As for me, I got a huge sense of pride in my community. (Sidebar: Do I ever go to any event and not feel surging pride? Probably not. My thanks to Lish Dorset for this opportunity!) These are the impressive crafters, inventors and innovators that have given us such great things as a climbable geodesic dome, complete with fluffy pillow bed below. There was Dozer, whose hand-made motorcycles were so inspiring that I saw some men gasp and whisper his name as they walked by his booth. And we all loved Nick Britsky’s group with their “Lego Brick Challenge Game,” a kind of Jeopardy meets building test. My son will be there next year, ready to compete, I’m sure.

I also picked up some wickedly cool items, including a Gwen Joy painting. After following her work online through Facebook, I was tickled to meet the artist herself and grabbed a great Lemonhead guy to proudly hang in my home. I also got to see all of my favorite shop keeps from Handmade Detroit, and I stand proud of their creativity and business acumen.

Such an event was inspiring to all four of us in our little nuclear family. We came home well nourished with ideas of what we wanted to make next. The lessons were immediate for my son; he put together a nifty tin-can robot that evening. And the two storage bins that will make up his Gonk droid (see “Star Wars” for an explanation) now sit next to me in my dining room. The tiny mouse droid sits beside them.

And I sit in happy contemplation of the inquisitive little guy, who someday may grow up to be an engineer, an inventor or a Maker.

That would make his mama mighty proud.

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