Kipp Bradford builds things. For commercial clients, he puts together high-end mini-computers and other electronic gizmos. For his friends and himself, anything goes — a sea of LED-lit balloons, sound-activated light displays, circuit boards strung around partygoers necks programmed to "like" and "dislike" each other.
Sure, there are products in stores that might accomplish similar purposes. But the whole point is to do it yourself, do it better, do it creatively, and share it all with fellow "makers."
It's a thriving movement all across the country, a hands-on rebellion against off-the-shelf consumerism, fueled by the Web and perfectly embodied in MAKE magazine, a DIY bible whose latest issue can teach you how to make a model plane with an autopilot, a small robot with a built-in brain, or a bicyclist's vest that shows how fast you're going.
Since 2005, MAKE has also been sponsoring huge "Maker Faires" where thousands gather to share their work and celebrate creativity and ingenuity. And now Bradford, a local engineer and a blogger for MAKE, is planning a mini-Maker Faire in Pawtucket's Slater Mill.
Timed to coincide with the Pawtucket Arts Festival, the event kicks off September 6 at the Rocktucket Block Party on Main Street. On September 12, "makers" are encouraged to attend the Iron Chef fundraiser at The Steel Yard, featuring a head-to-head sculpture competition.
Then, from September 14-17 at Slater Mill, there will be hands-on workshops, building and hacking competitions, culinary crafting, robot gymnastics, garage technology, arts and crafts sales and more. It's all free, and everyone is welcome whatever their technical skills.
"I think there's a great spirit of innovation and do-it-yourself in Rhode Island and Massachusetts and Connecticut," says Bradford, "and I also think there's a really significant history and culture of creativity in this region." Having workshops at Slater Mill is particularly appropriate, he adds, because "there's a story there of people using creativity to come up with solutions for really challenging problems."
This is not an official Maker Faire, Bradford says, but rather an "affiliate" backed by MAKE. It'll be the biggest so far in the Northeast, supported by a wide array of nonprofits, businesses and individual volunteers, from WaterFire and Slater Mill, to AS220, to the Grant and Machines with Magnets in Pawtucket, but with a deliberately modest budget.
"We're trying to make a small, low-key event," says Bradford. "We want to create something sustainable that has the capacity for growth."
For the new connections alone, says Jack Templin, co-founder of the Providence Geeks, this would be a valuable event, but he's also "really excited" by the prospect of drawing more regional attention to Rhode Island as a hub for creativity and innovation.
"I think we're incredibly lucky to have the group of makers that we do," he says. "We're blessed with a lot of real talent . . . and now we're seeing this kind of new 'industrial revolution' where people are really combining new technologies with the old industrial arts."
Maker Faire doesn't just appeal to techies, but also to artists and artisans who, in this setting, find common ground with builders and engineers.