Festivals and one-time shows sometimes change the course of American history.
About 12 years ago, writer/historian and superb stylist Erik Larson pulled off a wonderful thing: a book called The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair That Changed America. The piece is a lucid work of historical fiction: a lurid tour of the internal mental state and day to day "work program" of a crazed but meticulously organized, brilliant serial killer.
Larson's main character is a thinly fictionalized version of an actual killer who terrified visitors to the Chicago World's Fair of 1893. Larsen's evocation of the 1893 Fair, the sights, sounds and even the smells of this amazing exhibition is a singular work.
And while it's far from a world's fair, Tulsa's September 28 Mini Maker Faire looks to be a world beater event for people who are interested in making "things," of every conceivable description . Participants/exhibitors will include a passel of Tulsans and a hefty batch of out of town "maker"/veterans.
But back to the 1893 Chicago event for a tiny bit: the History Channel's website has a fascinating description of some the novel items at The Chicago fair:
"Among the well-loved commercial products that made their debut at the Chicago World's Fair were Cream of Wheat, Juicy Fruit gum and Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. Technological products that would soon find their way into homes nationwide, such as the dishwasher and fluorescent light bulbs, had early prototype versions on display in Chicago as well."
So powerful, fair-like events can be used to spark new items and novel ways of fashioning things. And sure enough, illuminating with spectacle, real insight and fun, is at the core of the organizers of Tulsa's new maker faire event.
The project is hosted by Tulsa's Hardesty/Fab Lab operation on S. Lewis Avenue and foks at the Guthrie Green, where it will be held. The fest is billed as a family outing, and there has been a great deal of attention paid to presenting "making" to children, including a space dedicated to same.
The Tulsa Alliance for Engineering, a group of six higher education institutions is also playing a role in orchestrating the event. A bison fur weaver/producer will be on hand, folks with Sustainable Tulsa will be showing a solar powered oven and a whole range of other parties will expo "hand made" robots, next wave 3-D printers, and a host of other made works will in play. At this point, an organizer told me, they have 95 exhibitors signed up for the fair. Some of the stuff at Maker Faire will be low-tech, some high-tech, and a bunch will exploit an exciting hybrid path called mid-tech -- a wild fusion of craft-like attention, precision computer-guided tools and fabrication systems, and high-performance visualizations to get the job done.
Xan Black, who runs the Tulsa Alliance for Engineering (TAE), a support, engineering advocacy and tech collaborative, told me recently that Tulsa's first Maker Faire festival was designed, in part, to get kids and adults shoulder to shoulder with people who can actually make things and people who relish the prospect of doing so. Black is a petroleum engineer who has taught at various levels: TAE is at the core of the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) ecology here in Tulsa. She told me that one of the principal objectives of TAE was to garner interest in engineering, highlight companies and student who are doing well in the arena, and retain engineering talent for Tulsa's future.
Jarvis Has Yet To Be Installed. Still, this home-made Iron Man suit is 100 percent real. No, it doesn't have flight capability at this moment. But you're just jealous.
The Mini Maker Faire Tulsa event is a consequence of the ongoing success of Tulsa's Fab Lab. Some readers may know that Fab Lab is an intriguing confab of fabrication tools, advanced cutting and shaping/production systems, computer aided design and imaging software, and a host of other gizmos for making things.
There are several dozen facilities of this kind across the country and the world: the projects are micro-factories, often new wave co-op ventures designed to put actual small-batch production capacities in the hands of people who don't happen to own classic industrial and manufacturing operations. The Tulsa event is based, in part, on festivals in New York, California, and other spots. Nathan Pritchett, executive director of Tulsa's Hardesty/Fab Lab, is encouraging people "to get out of their house, garages and workshops" and share what they've been making.
Fab Lab-like operations of both the consumer grade and in their new, still emerging commercial incarnations, are transforming the face of how physical stuff -- and increasingly, some bio/life systems objects -- get produced in America. And the scope of the cost-saving, energy efficient, agile family of processes, tools, and engineering philosophies that some call a new "maker paradigm" is being used in naval architecture to craft ships, in the medical arena with complex surgeries, in new practices called tissue engineering or bio printing, and in prototype form, at MIT, to produce entire residential houses.
Some industrial analysts hold out hope that the entire frame of American manufacturing and industrial production will be nudged in a dramatic way by "maker culture:" the entire array of micro-to-macro-scale, do-it-yourself production systems, computer-aided design regimens, and precise-but-nimble fabricators and other devices gives ordinary folks the production capacity that, until recently, was only available in giant, conventional manufacturing plants.
On September 28, at the Guthrie Green, you can come and witness what a significant part of America's industrial/object production future may look like, and shake hands with some of the humans required to make it so.
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