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Why Anchorage's Maker Community is a Step in the Right Direction

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What happens when you put out a call for local science nerds, tinkerers, and people who know how to keep themselves busy during the long winter? As it turns out, something pretty fun.
Anchorage Mini Maker Faire 2013 Photographed by John Aronno All Rights Reserved-016On July 27, Anchorage hosted the first Mini Maker Faire in Alaska, a celebration of local innovation and inventions. Think of it like a community science fair, but with cooler robots. This is part of a national “Maker” movement, described as “the Greatest Show (and Tell) on Earth—a family-friendly showcase of invention, creativity and resourcefulness, and a celebration of the Maker movement. It’s a place where people show what they are making, and share what they are learning.”
Jonathan Bittner is the vice president of the Anchorage Economic Development Corporation, which co-hosted the Mini Maker Faire with Make: magazine. He was pretty happy with the turnout. He said he enjoyed all of the presentations and events, and hopes that it can become an annual event.

“Provided we can find somebody to let us run things like pulse engines and flaming salmon on their lawn, we’ll keep doing it.”

Anchorage Mini Maker Faire 2013 Photographed by John Aronno All Rights Reserved-007Alicia Busick got involved with the Maker Faire because of another AEDC collaboration with Google in an effort to bring the Google Sketcher Online campaign to Alaska. Busick says she got excited about the work AEDC was doing, and wanted to give something back, so she joined the planning committee for the Maker Faire.

“And I’ve been riding this cool ride ever since. I’ve seen more crazy contraptions than I ever knew existed. So [it’s been] pretty neat to be able to take from this and just realize that community involvement can do a lot for anyone on any level.”

And Busick is right, because there were a wide variety of “crazy contraptions” and ideas to be found. But what stood out the most to me was the positive energy of everyone involved, especially that of the youth participants and attendees.

Cooperative Cardboard Creations
Cooperative Cardboard Creations

It makes sense, when you think about it: when you’re a kid, you’re still trying to figure out how the world works and what you can do to affect the world around you. Most children don’t have a great amount of personal power over people, and so they tend to focus that energy on the things they play with. The Maker Faire is an environment full of larger things that kids are not only allowed to manipulate and change, they are encouraged to do it!
Instead of Legos, participants had large cardboard pieces they could fit into a multi-story Eiffel tower. Instead of tinker toys (kids still play with those, right?), they could hammer real nails in to real blocks of wood. There was even a tiny remote controlled submarine to play with!
Anchorage Mini Maker Faire 2013 Photographed by John Aronno All Rights Reserved-023This excitement carried over to the older kids, too. Dimond High School’s FRC Team 568 presented their Frisbee-throwing robot to an attentive crowd, explaining the complications they had experienced in designing it and what they planned to change in order to improve it. One booth featured marshmallow shooters, developed from an online DIY guide and assembled and sold by four siblings in order to save up enough money for a vacation to Disney World (a financial goal they have already met and are planning on saving up for the next family trip.)
And these kids were surrounded by adults who were just as curious and innovative as they were. The Anchorage Makerspace is a group of makers who are planning to build a workshop where inventors, lifehackers, and other innovators can have the space they need to work.
Anchorage Community Works
Anchorage Community Works

Anchorage Community Works is another group dedicated to creative spaces, though their focus is more geared toward providing space for artists and musicians. More toward the other end of the spectrum sits the The Boardroom, a member-manged co-working space for entrepreneurs and contractors who don’t necessarily need a full time dedicated business space.
These groups are where my excitement stems from, as I see the potential for these organizations to be an example of adults who have turned the creativity usually relegated to childhood and found a way to maintain it as adults. For the sake of our future scientists, engineers, and crafters of our community, we need to encourage this sort of outlandish behavior.
Anchorage Mini Maker Faire 2013 Photographed by John Aronno All Rights Reserved-022To view the full gallery from the Anchorage Mini Maker Faire, click here.