The motto of our fablab (as of any other fablab in the world, more on this later) is that we are the place where “Makers can make (almost) anything”… But is making a Maker Faire included in the “anything” or is it part of the “almost” that’s not makable?
Well, a Maker Faire is, you know, just a fair, right? How difficult can be to make one?
First of all, a Maker Faire is really unique in the sense that it is “the Greatest Show & Tell on Earth”, with a recipe that has been perfected along the years: our Makers themselves bring plenty of new incredible and diverse projects, so that little more should be needed to achieve a great success each and every edition, right?
While this is certainly true, yet every time we are planning our next Maker Faire Trieste we ask ourselves this question: what can we do, as organizers (a.k.a. “Producers” in the MF jargon), to make it better, possibly the best of them all? Is there any new trick to learn, a tasty ingredient to add to the recipe, any refinement we can make to the complex mechanism leading to such a spontaneous and “free-form” event that seems easy, almost trivial, to organize?
In this article we confess to you what we think and feel about this question, after 9 years of producing our Maker Faire…
One formula that has proved always right for us is to put the Makers in the center. The stakeholders involved in such a rich event are usually many: the organizing entity (or entities), the nice people of Make Community, the local authorities and institutions, the sponsors, the media …and ,well, the Makers).
We have soon learned that most of them are, to say it diplomatically, rather “difficult” entities to deal with, quite often with complex rules, needs, requirements and maybe agendas to follow. Every year we get a substantial financial and logistic assistance from both the municipal and regional authorities -our event wouldn’t be possible without such big help- and surely it is difficult to get it: in our case, for example, the procedure to get access to regional funding starts at least one year before the event, with plenty of documents to fill.
So we can say that the trick for a perfect maker Faire is simply to talk with the authorities? Well, no, it’s not just this. We thank them and all the collaborating entities of course, they are all great and working together with them is paramount, but we should remember that there is no Maker Faire without the Makers.
Really we organisers shall treat the Makers as our first stakeholders, acknowledging that they are at the heart of any Maker Faire.
Following this principle, in all our events the main goal has never been the satisfaction of the public, nor of the authorities (but we follow the law and try to make them happy, too ;-). We discovered since the first year that these important goals are automatically achieved if the Makers are happy, so our first and foremost objective is always to make our Makers happy. We love when we are able to cuddle them in every possible way. By the way, the Italian verb for this is “coccolare”, and locally we call “coccolo” and “coccola” a nice lovely person (sometimes also ironically when he/she isn’t really so).
Therefore, and take this as our first advise, every year we put all our efforts to give to our Makers plenty of comfortable space for their exhibits, with MF-themed decorations that they can take home for their collections, free food, free parking, free accommodation when they aren’t locals, nice colorful t-shirts, badges or other gadgets, we make a “Maker’s Party” for lunch or dinner for all Makers and Volunteers to meet, chat together in a relaxed atmosfere and possibly to start new collaborations (in 2019 we had a great Saturday night party with dinner and a rock concert, that we all still remember), and so on. Finally every year, after the event, we print and gift them the official catalogue with all their projects (PDF are also available, free download on the web at: trieste.makerfaire.com).
Speaking now about the Volunteers, they are, together with the Makers, the most valuable resources a MF producer can hope to have (and, most importantly, they are a resource money can’t buy! Hired staff can surely be professional, but it’s a very different thing: Volunteers are passionate!). They infuse passion and enthusiasm in all the tasks they are charged with and they have many, many tasks: creatively setting up the decorations, helping the Makers to prepare and manage their booths, demos or performances, assisting the foreigners with translations to/from Italian, and so many other important small and big actions that all together create the success of a Maker Faire. The Volunteers-to-Makers ratio of our events is usually about 1:10, and it would be better to have even more of them.
This year we have been able to give to all our Makers and Volunteers a nice reusable plastic drinking glass decorated with Makey, and a coordinated cotton bag. A few years ago the Makers got a plywood “tensegrity table” made in our fablab (and laser cutting hundreds of them has been quite a challenge, we can tell you), during the pandemic edition they all received MF-branded face masks. Well, the 7th Maker Faire Trieste was a unique edition of course: held at end of summer 2020, it was the first and only large outdoor “in-person” event organized in town in the whole year, with so many precautions and not one single accident. Of course the interaction was extremely limited, there were no hands-on activities, plenty of masks/distancing/sanitizers and we had to organize everything at the last moment in less than three weeks, due to the rapidly changing rules and situation, but all Makers and Volunteers still remember fondly that edition, when they were able to give hope and share optimism to the citizens that visited us: no big numbers for the stats, but plenty of smiles and happy faces behind the masks! And even the t-shirts were showing a “thumbs-up” of hope.
So, when the Makers are all happy and well fed, and busy showcasing their projects to the public, and our Volunteers are running around like a well-tuned clockwork, all is fine, right? Well, yes, this is true, this is basically the full recipe. But wait… we haven’t finished yet! In fact, we would like to give you some more advices because well, you will have to find all these Makers and Volunteers, right? …to catch them all! 😉
Where do we find all these Makers and Volunteers? Hey, before this question you can maybe even ask where is Trieste?
Our city, Trieste, has about-200-thousands-inhabitants and it lies on the far East corner of Italy, only one hundred km (about 60 miles) north-East of Venice, precisely on the border with Slovenia, Austria and Croatia. Today Trieste is known as “City of Science” because it is host to many research institutions and has the biggest density of scientists in Italy, but for almost half a century our people used to live in insolation, right on the southern end of the Iron Curtain. Nowadays we’re finally back in the middle of the activity and have become like blood cells crazily whirling in the pulsating heart of Europe or, as we say, Mitteleuropa.
Melting pot of cultures, traditions and languages, Trieste is also a bridge joining the Mediterranean Sea with the European plains, a crossway between the Adriatic’s temperate waters and the cold Alps mountains, not very far from the Danube river flowing across the Balkan’s diverse landscape.
Trieste and surroundings aren’t isolated from the rest of Italy, as one may think when looking at the narrow isthmus of land connecting it to the “mainland”, but it’s an active part of the “Triveneto” region of Italy (the name given to the three administrative regions of North-Eastern Italy: Friuli Venezia Giulia, Veneto and Trentino Alto Adige. Yes, we like long, composite names!) summing up to over 7 millions inhabitants.
In fact, we advertise our Call for Makers in all of Triveneto, but also in Slovenia, Croatia and Austria, and for the first few editions we wrote all texts and documents in five languages: Italian, German, Slovenian, Croatian and English. After 2016 we simplified our propaganda work by using only Italian and English (since almost everybody in Europe can speak and understand English quite well nowadays) and started to channel it more and more on the social media.
As a result of all this, we have had many Makers coming from all the countries mentioned above, plus UK, Spain, France, Germany, Czech Republic and many others, and also from almost all Italian regions. This year we even celebrated a Maker coming (well, virtually) from Antartica, because we organized a live video chat with a young scientist that has been working a long winter in a research station down there, so that he could do the countdown for our traditional water-propelled rocket launch (Thomas, this is his name, did the launch in person last year, and when he told us that he was so sad to miss the MF this year, we asked a satellite communication with him to the Italian National Science Agency). And his arrow in our “Rosa dei venti” (the compass-style round map with directions and distances of the notable points, that you usually find on top of mountains or at places with a scenic views, but also at Maker Faires, to show from where all Makers are coming from, because why not!?!) was the longest one with 15,420 km!
After all we have said, you may think that bringing ingenuity and creative projects and to your Maker Faire, even from far away, is an easy thing, right? While this isn’t false and you can always count on the inspiration and examples of all other MFs, still it takes a lot of efforts.
In our case, in the last 9 years, we have spent a lot of efforts reinventing our event over and over again, for many reasons: first we had to learn ourselves who the Makers are, and how to reach them, and in this process we also opened our fablab (with a unique scientific flavor, we will tell about it soon, keep reading), we also had to understand how to create that magic environment where our newly-discovered makers can bring joy and delight to the public, and suddenly for many reasons we changed venue, moving from our campus -we are a scientific research institution part of UNESCO- to the city center, an historical and beautiful location facing the sea. The event grows from one day to two, and even three days. And then the pandemic occurred! Each edition was built upon a new challenge and we liked it more than the previous, because every single time we ended up creating something new. Challenges are good.
By the way, sometimes we are asked why we organize a Maker Faire, since our main purpose as an institution is to do scientific research (mainly in the field of theoretical physics and mathematics) and to assist Developing Countries in doing the same. Well, the one-line answer is that we do it because the Maker’s philosophy is almost the same as the Scientist’s one: they both follow the scientific method, promote knowledge sharing, technical and scientific education, and innovation through ingenuity. And we all do it for pleasure but also, importantly, for the benefit of all humanity. For us, organizing the next Maker Faire is as important as planning a scientific conference on an exciting topic, and way more fun!
For this edition we had a last-minute idea to make our village more fun and educational: we made a map of it (like we do all years, for the public and also to help Makers to find their place when setting up their booths) but this time we named the “streets” and the “plazas” with real inventors and scientists names, both famous and less famous but funny ones! And we made a lot of real-size street signs for them, with QR codes linking to their Wikipedia pages, thus decorating our village and at the same time telling to our public a little bit of our common history of inventions and technical and scientific progress.
Did we tell you already that ICTP, our workplace, is a UNESCO Category One Institute? This means we are an independently managed entity within the UN system, but we follow UNESCO rules for administration and accounting. ICTP (our name is the acronym for “International Centre for Theoretical Physics”) has been established in 1964 under the umbrella of Italy, UNESCO and IAEA, is mainly financed by Italy and in 1997 it has been renamed The Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics to honor its founder and first director, the Pakistani Nobel Laureate professor Abdus Salam (the physicist that created the electroweak unification theory with Glasgow and Weinberg). In 1983 he also founded the Third Word Academy of Sciences, TWAS, that now has become The World Academy of Sciences, an international NGO also sharing its headquarters with us here in Trieste.
And in 2014, after organizing our first Trieste Mini Maker Faire (“start little and grow by learning”, this is the advice we took from MAKE and hey, how good it was!) we also opened our fablab, the first fabrication laboratory established in our region Friuli Venezia Giulia, and with a special flavor to it: we called it “ICTP Scientific FabLab” (SciFabLab for the friends) because we have been focussing on science, research and STEAM education, bringing together researchers and Makers, always from an international point of view and with a global development goal in mind, since they are the core mission of our institution. We really hope that this kind of fablabs will spread even more in the future (link to our paper on Scifablabs).
So it is truly in ICTP’s DNA to do things in an international way, bringing together souls and minds from all across the world, under the powerful and inspiring umbrella of science, technology, creativity, international collaboration and sustainable development.
Because a Maker Faire, by definition a show of inventions and creations, is first of all an invention and a creation by itself, being every year new and different, yet still with the same spirit of sharing knowledge and ideas, and it get its success thanks to many people working together, for fun but also to make this world a better one.
While we are already beginning to prepare the next edition (by the way, it will be a special one: the 10th Maker Faire Trieste! Who would have thought we will be going so far, when we started small and with little clue, ten years ago? 😉 we would like to finish this report with the most important lesson we learnt: it takes a Maker (or better, many of them) to make a good Maker Faire. But don’t worry, because we are all Makers!