Sarah Dorchak/the Gauntlet

If you build it, they will come

The Mini Makers Faire has come to Calgary bringing the maker movement with it

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Every year, Calgary plays host to an astoundingly diverse array of festivals and events designed to show off the amazing people who call the city home. These events celebrate different cultures, art forms and interests, and are a clear display of the amazing diversity found in this city. However, despite this wide array of festivals, we have been conspicuously lacking an event where a person can show off their homemade laser. That is, until now.

This will be the first year for the Calgary Mini Maker Faire, an all-ages showcase of some of the most resourceful, creative and inventive people the city has to offer. Taking place on September 8 in East Village, it will feature over 25 artists and inventors displaying the amazing things they’ve made in their own backyards.

While it will be the first year Calgary will play host to a Maker Faire, the event originated six years ago in San Francisco, where it kicked off the growth of what has come to be known as the maker movement. Although it started small, the Faire has quickly grown into a worldwide phenomenon.

“It was all about showcasing what people are making,” explains Shannon Hoover, one of the lead organizers of the Calgary Mini Maker Faire. “In six years it went from basically nothing to about 150,000 people. That’s pretty impressive for a group of people showcasing what they built in their backyards. Today there are almost 60 Maker Faires worldwide. So not only has it grown in San Francisco, it has grown across the world.”

Hoover, who co-owns the Endeavor Arts Gallery with his wife, heard about the original San Francisco Maker Faire soon after becoming a part of the Calgary contemporary art scene.

“About three years ago, my wife and I started discovering people in Calgary who were making things, and being very innovative and creative about what they made,” says Hoover. “I connected with some of them and they mentioned Maker Faire, which I had never heard of before. So I hopped on a plane to San Francisco and went to the Faire, and I was seriously blown away, I was stunned. Everywhere I looked I saw creativity happening at a level I didn’t even know was possible.”

This creativity is unique, however, in that it has been divorced from the profit motive that traditionally drives innovation. In Hoover’s eyes, that makes it much more significant.

“When we think of things being inventive or creative, we often think of start-ups or businesses,” says Hoover. “But here was a group of people who were completely disconnected from a corporate infrastructure, who were being truly and significantly innovative. What’s happened is that through the Internet these people are able to share knowledge and innovate on each other’s creations and ideas, without that corporate infrastructure existing. This is what the maker movement was born from: our ability as human beings to feed off each other’s ideas. It’s a really human movement.”

Thoroughly impressed by what he saw in San Francisco, Hoover was determined to bring the Maker Faire to Calgary. Cities across North America have been starting their own Faires, including Vancouver and Toronto, so it was only a matter of time before the maker movement reached Calgary.

“When I came back I started asking people ‘Why don’t we have a Maker Faire here?’ ” says Hoover. “Nobody had a really good answer for why it didn’t exist. Everyone agreed that Calgary should have one, but they didn’t know why it didn’t have one. Calgary is the perfect place for this! We are a very young, entrepreneurial city, with the highest number of engineers per capita of any North American city. I figured that somebody had to start it, and since nobody else was doing it, that person had to be me.”

Using his connections in the Calgary art scene, Hoover and the other organizers of the Mini Maker Faire have managed to assemble a staggeringly diverse collection of some of Calgary’s brightest and most eccentric inhabitants. Their projects range from traditional arts such as metalworking and weaving, to futuristic homemade lasers and robots.

“We have a crazy variety of people,” explains Hoover. “We have at least one blacksmith, a group of spinners and weavers, the Canadian champion paper airplane maker, some roboticists, about 10 people with 3D printers, some people that work with textiles, costume designers, a really talented lego artist and one guy who built his own shaken granual laser, whatever that is. I suppose we’ll find out.”

With the addition of the Mini Maker Faire, Calgary’s already impressive collection of events and celebrations will grow even larger. And although the Faire is sure to be an entertaining way to spend a Saturday, Hoover hopes it can do something even more: convince people that the city of Calgary is as awesome as its inhabitants are.

“What’s funny is that a lot of these people don’t really consider themselves visionary artists,” says Hoover. “Because in Calgary we really try to downplay that notion. We don’t really think internally, as Calgarians, that we’re awesome enough to have real culturally significant things happening here. We have some of the most creative and innovative people in the world here in this city, why do we think we have to look elsewhere? You can look at this two ways. You can look at the whole situation as frustrating and annoying and depressing, or you can look at it as an opportunity. To create something people can be passionate about.”