First Maker Faire San Diego celebrates inventive DIY-ers in Balboa Park

Maker Faire was created to celebrate the joys of inventiveness. It’s a two-day, all-ages fiesta showcasing the Maker movement, an amorphous community of tech-savvy do-it-yourselfers that has been growing wildly over the past decade. The first Maker Faire took place in the Bay Area in 2006; there are now annual faires around the world, attracting hundreds of thousands of attendees.

On the weekend of Oct. 3-4, San Diego’s first full-scale Maker Faire turned Balboa Park into Grand Central Station for techies, hobbyists, science clubs and entrepreneurs sharing their projects with makers-to-be. Sponsored chiefly by Qualcomm, which had its own Thinkabit Lab activities in the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, the Faire was produced by a partnership of 12 non-profit organizations happily using the event to honor the Panama- California Exposition’s centennial. Tickets included admission to 10 museums, in and around which 200-plus local and bi-national exhibitors showed their works.

One of the notable locals, Lindsay Lawlor, has been involved in Maker Faires since the very beginning. His day job is fire alarm systems engineering, but his passion since childhood has been making cool things out of whatever is on hand. He first began work on his life-size robotic giraffe in 2003, thinking it would make a good rolling art cart to take to the Burning Man Festival. Since then, Lawlor’s ‘Raffe has gone through years of refinements, and is now a showstopper, after catching the eye of president Barack Obama and national media at last year’s Maker Faire in Washington, D.C. In Balboa Park, kids and adults followed the ‘Raffe as it made its way from Plaza de Panama to the Fountain.

And there were other impressive robots on display, like Robot Resurrection, a 28-foot-tall, fire-breathing colossus built by Colorado-based Shane Evans, and the Tin Spider, a massive, one-eyed, dome-headed arachnid that moved back and forth on spidery legs. All of these giants are portable, and break down into segments that can be trucked from faire to faire.

But as Sacramento-based Spider-maker Scott Parenteau pointed out, it takes 15 hours to put his creation together for a showing, and 6.5 hours to take it apart again.

Many booths offered hands-on activities, but the faire’s best moments involved meeting the makers, and having a chance to chat with them.

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer kicked things off on Saturday, introducing VIPs from both sides of the border, including Maker Faire founder Dale Dougherty, who emphasized the faire’s reason for being. “We are all makers,” he said.

Apparently, Sunday’s rainfall didn’t dampen spirits: used to improvising, makers moved outdoor exhibits inside the museums.

Over the weekend, an estimated 15,000 visitors came to the faire, which promises to be an annual event.

Next time, it would be nice to see fewer projects involving guns and rockets, fewer “Star Wars” spinoffs and drone battles, and more quiet spaces that encourage artful, individual creativity. But thanks to the participation of numerous maker-backers, this was a great start. Interested in becoming a Maker? Visit sdmakersguild.org

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