Dale Dougherty, Maker Faire And 'Make' Magazine Co-Founder, Says DIY Festival Gaining Momentum In Detroit

How do you describe Maker Faire?

It's like a small-scale World's Fair appearing every summer at The Henry Ford in Dearborn, celebrating DIY science, technology and crafts. This science-fair-on-steroids features everything from homemade fashions and robotics to a foam-filled extravaganza by those guys who make fountains out of Coca-Cola and Mentos.


The festival was launched in San Mateo, Calif. in 2006 by Make magazine, a publication for people who like making things. Community-based festivals inspired by the Maker Faire have since spread to locations around the world.

The Huffington Post speaks here with Make co-founder Dale Dougherty about the origins of the event, the spirit of participatory design and the recent emergence of the maker movement.

What's a maker?
A maker is someone who's building and creating and hacking things. They're working with physical materials. It could be you make food. It could be you make clothing. It could be you make gadgets and devices.

How did Maker Faire get started?
I was meeting lots of interesting makers though the magazine. I said bring them all together. It would be fun to meet them. They would like to meet each other. They all have a good story to tell.

This is the kind of story we like to hear -- someone talk about something they love to do and they show you. We've become the world's greatest show-and-tell. That's the main attraction. What is that funny thing on the table? I think if it was just sitting there by itself most of the time you'd just keep walking. But because there's someone sitting there, you can say, 'Hey what does this do; and why the heck did you build it; and where'd you get those funny things?'

How true do you think it's stayed to its DIY origins?
I think at the core of it, it's the people. I think we see the makers here. We see new makers every year. When I go around, [I] talk to people who are coming for the first time. So I don't think it's losing any of its steam. In fact, I think it's gathering momentum. Our goal at the Maker Faire is to turn people on so they can come back and show us what they did.

A while back, I read a book by Buckminster Fuller called "Critical Path." In the book, he advocated a design-centered philosophy that he felt could shift humanity in a positive direction. Do you think the maker's movement could have an an effect like this on the wider society?

I think this is about a design paradigm in a way -- a more participatory design. Rather than a few elite people designing things, like architects, DIY is about lots of people doing this and change and modify and improve what other people [have done]. In much the spirit of open-source software. This not only allows a lot of people to contribute, but it allows it to occupy niches that normally companies and others wouldn't go to. So a very small number of people can do this together, because they're collaborating.

Recently there has been a trend where collective spaces for makers have been opening up. They're sort of like gym clubs for folks who like to build. Tell us a little about makerspaces in the Detroit area?
Tech Shop just opened last December.

i3 is a great example of something that has not only arisen, but is stable. The founders have stepped back and there's new people running it. The phenomena that I think is happening here is it's sorts of growing beyond its hacker origins ... I think we're in this next wave of hitting people who sometimes they're machinists, sometimes they're crafters. They're just coming in wanting a place to do this.

I think the successful places will be able to adapt to those new audiences. The less successful ones will be more like closed clubs that say, "You don't belong here." I think they'll become more open institutions as a result.

Detroiters have a reputation for tinkering with things, with being engineers. I was wondering what response have you gotten specifically in Detroit to the Maker Faire?

You don't have to say it's just Detroit vs. the Bay area, but Detroit doesn't necessarily get the visibility of what people are doing there. I thought the purpose of a Maker Faire was to show all the good work that's going on here, and it's as good as anywhere.

We have more tractors here. We have more Model T's here. I think what's special is there is a legacy here of manufacturing and tinkering that I think people have been brought up in, and it's close to them.

And to some degree it feels more real here than in the Bay area. Sometimes it feels a little bit like a costume, like someone's really into software. They don't even understand Silicon Valleys origins are in hardware, in physical things. So I just felt like what I appreciate in Detroit is the reception that the event has gotten and the people and what its done … It's growing and I think its more vigorous and more vital.

2012 Detroit Maker Faire