A mash-up of South Florida artists, educators, digital designers, craft workers, scientists and engineers is fueling a burgeoning trend called the Maker Movement.
The proliferation of communication devices, social media and cloud-based computing has made collaboration — for work and fun — increasingly accessible and widely dispersed. Rapid prototyping machinery, like 3D printers and laser cutters, make it possible for an inventor to prototype and even manufacture from home — or remotely.
But people want to get away from their screens, too. That physical DIY drive urges potters, eyeglass designers and print-makers to find one another to share skills, tools and physical space.
Maker Faires (aka fairs) aggregate these kindred spirits. The first was produced in 2006 by the editors of Make: magazine in San Mateo, California. Makerfaire.com lists 119 events so far in 2014.
Miami’s innovation leaders recognize the personal and business potential of the maker phenomenon. Photographer Sandra Canning is on board. “My personal belief is that once we start putting engineers and artists in the same room, we're going to start creating some really interesting stuff,” she said.
Who’s a maker?
Just about anyone can be a maker. What does a maker make? Remote-controlled devices, vases, “selfie” sculptures, palm frond hats, facial-recognition software and hot-forged garden tools.
People like sharing their passions, “and being able to share and teach someone else about the things you make is powerful,” said Jessica Mendez, a VISTA volunteer teaching desktop design to teenagers through MIAMade, a nonprofit tech facilitator and event producer.
Maker spaces provide the venues where they can work and interact — for social benefit, for business development and for the sake of art that often serves both purposes.
LAB Miami, a 10,000-square-foot co-working space, was co-founded in 2012 by Daniel Lafuente and Wifredo Fernandez. Located in Wynwood, it’s a key node in the region’s maker and start-up community.
“First, it’s a place for professionals to meet and network and learn from each other. Next, it’s a place for presentation of educational experiences,” Fernandez said.
In Broward County, Makers Square provides tools, space and “over-the-shoulder” support. There are other ventures in various stages of development.
Studio complexes like the Bakehouse, Fountainhead Studios, Fat Village and ArtCenter/South Florida provide shared presses, kilns, galleries and opportunities for interaction, but the maker concept prioritizes the communal functions.
The convergence of art and technology isn’t new. For centuries, artists have enlisted skilled artisans with specialized equipment to realize their bronze sculptures and prints. From early in the 20th century, artists’ tools and gear progressed from motors and projectors to radios, television sets and computers.
Nor is the collaborative process a recent innovation. Large Renaissance studios encompassed a master artist, journeymen, specialists and apprentices.
So what’s new? The convergence of team designing, the democratization of high-tech tools, open-source software, the proliferation of social media, crowd-funding and the hunger for hands-on experiences.
These have led to a variety of new models of creativity and lifestyle choices, as millennials explore alternatives to “getting a job” and baby boomers ponder “What’s next?”
Coming next week
Two quick-immersion experiences are on offer in the coming week.
Refresh Miami, a nonprofit group founded in 2006 to encourage local entrepreneurial and technical communities, will present The Maker Movement at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Miami Dade College. Shared workspaces, 3D printing, robotics, drones and mini-controllers are among the scheduled topics.
Two days later, the second Miami Mini Maker Faire convenes indoors and out. Presented by LAB Miami and MIAMade and also filling the Light Box next door, the event will feature high- and low-tech practitioners who will compete for attention with products and services aimed at enthusiasts of all ages.
Last year’s event included artists, robots, engineers, musical bananas, virtual reality demos, lots of 3D printing and advanced culinary experiments plus old-fashioned handcrafts.
About 90 presenters will be there for an audience anticipated to reach nearly 3,000.
Scores of kids have been primed by learning elements of coding in tech camp and guided through science experiments conducted on an orbiting mini-satellite via the Countdown Institute’s Code in Space program held at LAB Miami.
Arts advocates seek to enhance STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) learning with the addition of “A” for Art. The huge popularity of gaming, video animation and animatronics provides a boost, and educators strive to shift the focus from playing games to making games.
During a recent arts-focused hackathon at YoungArts’ new facility, the LAB’s Fernandez said, “We thought there’s a burgeoning tech community; there’s an increasingly strong arts community. How can you bring the two together? We pose the challenge to designers and technologists: ‘How can we improve the arts through technology?’”
The Knight Foundation is a frequent funder of such initiatives. Participants compete to create apps featuring the discovery of art, engagement with art or the creation of art. Winners get cash prizes; their works are promoted, and they are encouraged to make connections with prospective patrons.
LAB Miami was initially funded by a Knight Foundation grant, but Fernandez said, “We’ve been sustainable since the fourth month. We’re a for-profit business with a social mission. Grant funding is finite; you cannot depend on it, so that’s been our thesis.”
Among the LAB’s entrepreneurs are Tom Pupo and Daisy Nodal, founders of Moonlighter. Recent FIU architecture graduates, the couple is developing a prototype cafe/retail store where people can stop after work to have coffee, chat and explore the world of design.
“It’s about bridging the gap, so you don’t have to learn something completely new to actually develop a product that’s really elegant,” Pupo said.
While selling local design products, the Moonlighter will also offer its patrons tools to realize their own design ideas. Currently, Moonlighter invites guest designers to display their work/products/objects on the website, online store and mobile app.
During Art Basel, it will partner with DesignLab to showcase garment designs that use 3D-printed components and accessories. Teaching fashion design, sewing and “wearable technology” are all part of the DesignLab’s North Miami-based program.
All summer, the Moonlighter partners and Mendez were at the LAB demonstrating software to adults and children, then printing their designs.
“Kids being able to take these skills and make careers out of them is really important,” Mendez said. “Like, you can make this into something you do all the time.”
A tech revolution
Canning, the photographer, is a recent convert to 3D printing. “This is our version of the personal computing revolution. This is going to change everything, and I refuse to be the last person to learn how to do it.”
This summer, she started a Meetup group focused on 3D printing, and it now has 150 members. Events, held both at LAB Miami and as cocktail mixers, feature exhibitions, music and equipment demos including Forge 3D Printing Studio founders, who scanned volunteers rotating on a turntable to produce “3D selfies” — lifelike statuettes.
Jack McNulty, with partner Brian Weiner and wife Elaine Scantlen, co-founded Makers Square near downtown Fort Lauderdale, a 14,000-square-foot complex of indoor-outdoor, upstairs and downstairs spaces.
“There’s yacht clubs for people with boats. There’s country clubs for people who play golf. Why can’t there be a club for people who make stuff?” McNulty asks.
Since opening in October 2013, Makers Square has created zones and sheds for ceramics, electronics, metalworking, jewelry, wood shop and fibers (Scantlen is a milliner). There are areas for hanging out, gardening, projecting movies and staging workshops, like blacksmithing.
Makers Square has about 45 members. “Just like a health club, some people pay and they show up infrequently, while others are there six days a week,” McNulty says. Often it’s a particular tool or workshop that will draw a prospective member, but it’s the community aspect that really provides the “glue.” Often members will come not to work on their own projects but to help colleagues.
McNulty calls his venture “a Moose Lodge for weirdos.”
“There’s a huge group of us that are in a transition of careers,” he says. “Maybe we had extremely digital careers where we sat down all day working in the corporate workspace and we didn’t really have the feeling of completion and the satisfaction of doing something with your hands.”
If you go
What: Refresh Miami Presents: The Maker Movement
When: 6:30 p.m. Thursday
Where: Miami Dade College, Wolfson Campus, 300 NE Second Ave., Building 8, #8500
Info: RefreshMiami.com, Team@RefreshMiami.com
What: Miami Mini Makers Faire
When: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Nov. 8
Where: Northwest 26th Street between Third and Fifth avenues
Info: makerfairemiami.com, email@example.com
▪ LAB Miami, 400 NW 26th St., Miami; thelabmiami.com, firstname.lastname@example.org; 305-507-3660
▪ Makers Square, 1142 NE Sixth Ave, Fort Lauderdale; makerssquare.com, email@example.com; 954-361-4114
▪ MIAMade, MIAMade.org
▪ WB Engineering, wb-3d.com
▪ 3D Printing Meetup, meetup.com/Artof3DPrinting
▪ Mark Diamond. diamondimages.com