Every spring, Eureka Factory hosts Gulf Coast MakerCon, our area's largest and oldest maker festival. Our annual Celebration of the Inventive Spirit is a collaborative event through and through, and we've helped other groups organize their own versions over the last couple of years. We'd love to see Maker conventions and festivals as regularly anticipated as comic cons and anime festivals, and perhaps come to replace the static science festival as an interactive festival of science, art and technology.
We hope this basic how-to will help you get a community maker festival underway in your area, too!
Step 1: Start Small
If you've seen or been to any of the big Maker Faires, then it's easy to feel like you and your community may not have the resources for something like that. But as much fun as the big branded Maker and Mini Maker Faires are, they're not the only way to host a gathering of makers.
Today there are lots of independent maker festivals - we even started a group to help connect them: the Independent Makers Network , where you can find a year long calendar of events that range in size from tiny school or library events, to huge citywide events.
So if you're just getting started, look for community centers or parks that would welcome a maker event and provide it for free, if at all possible. Our very first event, Tampa Bay Mini Maker Faire, was held in a community center in an urban redevelopment area. The county provided the space at no cost. We expected about 100 people - and over 300 showed up!
The next year, we moved to a huge outdoor Rotary Club Pavilion, also free. The following year, in 2014, we moved to the Florida State Fairgrounds, now supported by a county grant and other community support. We now hold the event annually at the State Fairgrounds. But we couldn't have gotten there, without starting in the community center.
Step 2: Budget Realistically
Even with free space, you'll have some expenses, like event insurance, meals for volunteers (always feed your volunteers!) , signage, programs, event merchandise, etc. Get it all down on paper and then plan from there.
Decide what's important to you, what your goals are with your event, and how you can best serve those goals.
In our case, we want to provide a low cost, accessible maker event for people of all ages, but with a focus on teens and up. To keep costs reasonable, we work to have most of the event paid for through sponsorships and grants, and charge only modest ticket and vendor fees. Admission is usually no more than $10 at the gate and vendor fees are usually $50 for those wanting to sell their wares.
Step 3: Collaborate!
You'll need an event planning team to have a successful event, and the best way to build a team is to have a collaborative spirit. Invite local makerspace organizers, school groups, businesses and anyone who you feel might be interested in having a platform to share programs, products or services and offer them booth or program space in exchange for organizational or in-kind support.
In this, our 4th year, our partnerships included in-kind graphic arts, printing services, grantors, and musicians.
Step 4: Build Community Year Round
Have a social media presence and use it! If you actively promote your maker community year round, it will make it easier and more effective to promote your maker festival. People who feel they are part of an active community that values them and wants to support them, will be a lot more willing to be part of a community maker festival and return that support.
Step 5: Promote, Promote, Promote!
Start promoting your event early - at least 6 months out - and make sure you have everything in place when you start, to secure sponsorships, donations and vendors.
Here's what our general project timeline looks like for Gulf Coast MakerCon:
- September: Start holding regular planning team meetings to set tasks and project timeline
- November: Start promotional teasers
- December: Open Call for Makers - continue promotional posts, mailings, etc.
- Early Feb: Venue details and event layout finalized
- Mid-Feb: Start featuring makers, full court press for ticket sales and maker application, including PSAs, and media features wherever we can get them. T-shirt design finalized, any other promotional sale items ; volunteer push
- Late Feb. Order shirts, wrist bands,
- Early March: Entertainment and MakerCon Challenge announcements, Advance ticket sales push - continue maker features;and encouraging maker promotion of event;
- Mid March: Set event agenda, Program design, signage, purchase event insurance
- Late March: wrap up ticket sales, rally makers for media cross promotion; final post event PSA
- Early April: finalize program, program to printers, as well as event signage; arrange for volunteer lunch/snacks and refreshments
- Event Day - it's Show Time!
Step 6: Host Competitions
If you can bring competitions to your event, that adds an extra element of enjoyment for guests and collaborative opportunities for you and the competition organizers. This past year, we added full scale Southeast Combot Championship and Electrathon races, both events that appreciated the opportunity for space to hold their events, and which brought added value to both of us with respect to attendance at all our events, by bringing them together under one roof.
It's a collaboration we plan to keep alive going forward, too, giving Gulf Coast MakerCon guests regular competition events to look forward to and providing platforms for both the Combot event and the Electrathon program to showcase their great work.
Step 7: Have Demos
Demos are another fun and important element of any maker festival, large or small. Outdoor demos are especially fun, like blacksmiths or explosions. If there's some sort of controlled fiery experience, there's usually happiness.
Step 8: Play Games
Our event once coincided with International Tabletop Day . It was so much fun, that we've made a Gaming section part of our annual event. This past April, an organization called Gamers on the Edge, which hosts charity gaming events, organized our gaming section, and it was great!
Giving groups like Gamers on the Edge ownership over an area they already specialize in lessens your work load, and helps ensure a fun experience for guests.
Step 9: Have Entertainment
We had actually wanted to have a Steampunk Ball at our event this past April, but things didn't pan out as hoped. However,a late coming offer of participation from a local Steampunk band - Clockwork Knotwork - added a fun entertainment element to our event, and we plan to continue having live entertainment at future events.
We also had a DJ, but the acoustic performance was something people really enjoyed.
Step 10: Invite Schools, Community Groups and Makerspaces
Invite everyone! But especially invite schools, community groups and makerspaces. All community groups can exhibit for free at our event, which encourages a wide range of community group participation. As with the gaming area, we gave ownership of different sections to different groups - a local school makerspace organizer, Diana Rendina, of Stewart Middle School Makerspace , took charge of the school makerspace area. FIRST robotics organizers ran that area, and so forth.
Step 11: Have Hands on Activities
We ask that every exhibitor , from community groups to vendors, have a hands on component to their exhibit. Having hands on activities for both youth and adults is what makes a maker festival special. We have a Deconstruction Zone, hosted by Scrap on Spot, a local ewaste recycling group, and there were Make and Take activities and other fun things to do at most of the booths.
Step 12: Showcase Area Inventors
Find your local inventors council or group, and invite them to have a presence at your event. Our local Tampa Bay Inventors Council manged our Inventors Showcase area, which featured a fantastic range of creations, from a custom comforter to outdoor cooling devices and more. It's fun to see what everyday people are creating and to acknowledge and celebrate their inventive spirit!
Step 13: Have Heritage Exhibits
Don't forget the Heritage crafters - things like blacksmithing, spinning and weaving, candle making, leatherwork and woodwork. These are the first makers, and their craft needs to be shared and celebrated, too!
Step 14: Large or Small, Celebrate It All!
The more collaborative you are, the more you'll be able to bring to the table and the more you'll be able to grow, year after year!
We'd love to hear about your community maker events! You can also add them to the Indie Makers calendar and share news about your events that we're happy to post forward for you.
Whatever the size of your event, make it a Maker Party. hav