Monday, September 27, 2010

What Can Museums Learn From Maker Faire?

The first "World Maker Faire" just wrapped up a successful run at the New York Hall of Science this past weekend.  I attended with my family and we all had a great time.

Here are a few things that I think all types of museums could learn from the Maker Faire experience:

• "Risks" are good
Museums are typically risk-averse.  They often tend to view every exhibit or program idea through the lens of a liability lawyer.  Visitors, however, often like to participate in, or just watch activities, that are perceived as "risky" (even if they're not really that dangerous.) 

I'd say take a page from Makers Faire and try "riskier" exhibits or programs --- even if you need people to sign a waiver first.

• "Outsiders" bring interesting ideas and approaches
Not all good ideas or approaches always have to originate from within your institution.  One thing that was great about Makers Faire was the diversity of presentations from a wide range of creative folks.  Not everything struck my fancy, but the sheer range of approaches was compelling.

How can you find ways to work with local makers in your community?

• Making is not just for the "cool kids"
There were rumblings during (and after) the World Makers Faire about the presence of corporate sponsors like Ford or HP (which is a little ironic considering their maker-centric histories) taking away from the "indy" spirit of the event.

That seems like hogwash to me for two reasons:

1) The admission ticket prices were high enough, and I'm sure the presence of large sponsors helped keep prices down

2) Makers came in all shapes, sizes, and colors.  It certainly was entertaining to see some of the more "unusual" folks at the event, but you don't have to be a tattooed hipster from Brooklyn to be making cool things.

Hopefully museums can find ways to cast a wide net around the growing Maker and DIY zeitgeist by thinking about ways to include kids and families (and even hipsters!) in solving problems or just creating fun stuff with materials.

Of course, some of the presenters at World Maker Faire could have learned some things from museums too, like:

• Presentation Matters
Not everything has to be put together with duct tape or look like it was welded by Godzilla.  Sometimes rough materials can detract from your broader messages.

• Logistics Matter
Museums know that when you bring an activity to a crowded festival you need to have enough staff, and more importantly, enough work stations and materials to handle the crowds.

Have you attended a Maker Faire?  Let us know how makers and museums could work even better together in the "Comments" section below.

UPDATE:  In conjunction with the inaugural World Maker Faire, held in September 2010, NYSCI convened a two-day workshop with more than 80 leaders in education, science, technology and the arts to consider how the Maker movement can stimulate innovation in formal and informal education.

You can download the complete report here.

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