Yesterday, I attended the annual Maker Faire, an annual tradition for me since it began. For those who don't know the festival, it's sponsored by both Make and Craft magazines, two quite cool and modern pubs similar in purpose to Popular Mechanics and Women's Day, but aimed at a very different demographic.
Every year, I have been inspired and moved by unique art and technology, and have had great conversations about collaboration and creation. I've always left the festival with new projects to try and a deeply reawakened creative spirit. This year, I did not, and this saddens me.
I have three key complaints about the festival:
First, and most shocking, was the blatant commercialization. I walked into a "craft" area, anticipating demos of crafts. What I found was an entire building of vendors. Sure, the crafts were unique, but none of this was here to inspire my creativity, au contraire, I didn't need to be inspired if I could buy. Next, the giant corporate brands were here, some pitching wares as they do at many festivals--the SF Chronicle, the Examiner. Others like HP, MSFT and GOOG were there. The later seemed to be recruiting engineers, and not much else. HP had a cool booth with Kung Fu Panda photo opps and a make-your-own-thing area using HP Projects (found on their website and often cute). I made a Mother's Day card, thinking better their ink than mine. But, honestly, Maker Faire is not supposed to be about stuff from a kit; it's supposed to be about creativity and originality, pushing the limits, not following others. In fact, one table existed to make cards from found materials, but was so tiny that only two people could work on projects at a time.
While I admire Make for being able to attract major corporate sponsors, at what cost do they come? The HP demo was all about commercialism and cutting creative corners-tsk tsk. And Kung Fu Panda?
Second, many of the displays, albeit cool ones, were identical to last year, including many of the major art installations. Yes, many of these are very cool, but where is the new art to make things interesting and inspiring to regulars? Or is Maker Faire not seeking regulars, but rather a whole new demographic?
Which leads me to my last point--the crowds. I do not know what attendance looks like this year compared to last, but I can tell you I never sat on the highway offramp an HOUR to get there. Instead of being one big party, the Faire felt like a tradeshow or tourist site, with people pushing and shoving. Demos and displays were hard to see around the crowds. And while I love seeing children be creative and included, I was surprised to see so many at Maker Faire this year, where things shoot fire, sharp edges abound, and things spin, cut and zap. It would be GREAT to see Make do a kids zone, where those 10 and under can safely be inspired, but I was downright scared to see kids near some of the exhibits.
I also noted that many people in booths were less friendly and less willing to talk to people. Neil and I were independently ignored by booths we went to where we really wanted to learn. I attribute this in part to the overwhelming crowds which probably tired exhibitors out.
I've already said I will likely not go next year. The homogenization and commercialization of the event really saddened me. I hear Burning Man has evolved in a similar way, albeit more slowly, and still maintains a spirit.
I hope Make and Craft hear this message and make some changes. Put the corporate sponsors in their own room. Give bigger booths at low prices to truly creative ventures, and stop shoving these guys into the corners. Decrease the amount of stuff for sale. Encourage new installations of major art. Give kids a safe and creative space--a Mini Maker area. Bring back the emphasis on demos from magazine projects.
Here's holding out hope for Maker Faire...