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Athens Maker Fest Encourages Creativity

If you’ve been thinking about picking up a new skill lately, here’s your chance. Whether it’s wood carving, metal working or 3D printing, this weekend’s Athens Maker Fest will bring together more than 40 interactive booths for you to explore your next obsession.

The idea is to bring together artists, technology lovers and crafters to trade ideas and create something new, says Van Burns, coordinator of the Athens Regional Library System grant funding the event.

“We want people who are working away in their garages without anyone watching to show each other what they’re doing,” says Burns. “The focus is on different influences and techniques, and the idea of an open-source environment with the free exchange of ideas.”

Slated for late Saturday afternoon, Aug. 9, at Lyndon House Arts Center, the event is the first of its kind in Athens and is free to attend. Expect to find booths with folk art, ceramics, robots, cartoons, soap making, watercolor and weaving. Several interactive technology exhibits will allow viewers to immerse themselves in the environment, including Zane Cochran’s Bit Dome, which creates a 360-degree light and music experience.

“It’s a good balance of the arts and technology,” Burns says. “There’s the more traditional side, with silk painting and printmaking, and then we’ve got MFA folks from UGA doing on-the-spot portraits on tablets. I’m looking forward to the wide selection.”

The festival is funded by the Reflecting, Sharing, Learning program, the product of a National Leadership Grant awarded to the Athens Regional Library System and Lyndon House Arts Center by the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services. This is the fourth and final year of the grant, with an extension funding Maker Fest and other programs through the end of September.

“The program was targeted at the Baby Boomer generation to produce programming for and by them, but we found over the course of the grant that we were attracting both younger and older Athenians,” Burns says. “The White House held a similar makers event a few weeks ago, and we think it’s a growing trend across the country to bring creators together.”

To keep interest piqued, Hatch Athens, a local organization of artists, developers and creatives, will host workshops at Lyndon House this weekend and next weekend to teach coding and other elements of interactive technology. A beginner’s Arduino coding class this weekend will teach learners how to control an LED ring to make an “Iron Man Arc Reactor” clock, and next weekend’s class will show users how to manipulate information from Xbox Kinect to control software.

“Many times, there’s a wide disconnect between disciplines, and when you’re only working in one medium, you don’t know the availability out there,” says Erica Parson, executive director of Hatch Athens. “Combining different disciplines and mindsets helps to manipulate materials and technology in a new way, which is the only way we’re going to advance anything.”

Hatch Athens, which hosts monthly “hackathons” for members to collaborate, is working to provide a 24/7 space for creators to get together and use resources to build projects. They’ve already collected wood-working tools, metal-working tools and a variety of tech toys, such as 3D printers, microcontrollers and mini-computers.

“Everyone is creative. Everyone is a maker,” Parson says. “Whether you’re building furniture, creating connections or doing sales, you’re making the world a better place when you bring passion to it.”

Hatch Athens will host a space at the Maker Fest with information about the group’s developing space and projects the group has produced since January. Parson works with technology, modern furniture and metal, but she’s excited to explore crafts this weekend that she hasn’t tried before, such as felt making.

“People are happier when they’re able to do something that fulfills them rather than just work a job and make money,” Parson says. “We want to provide a way to harbor that creativity inside everyone.”

WHAT: Athens Maker Fest 2014
WHERE: Lyndon House Arts Center
WHEN: Saturday, Aug. 9, 2–6 p.m.