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    Photos by Eric Matthews

    Of all the science projects that had appeared on Fourth Street Live!, the first to catch my eye was a homebrewed Spintron, like something NASA would use to train astronauts, built by a group called Newton’s Attic.

    “Would you like to try it? We need a first rider of the day,” the woman behind the table said.


    The Spintron, by Newton's Attic

    I eyed the welding beads and multicolored restraint straps on the device and replied, “Sure.” A pair of young men strapped me in and reassured me that it was just a rocking chair that rocked on all three axes. A few seconds later, I was completely inverted, with my head hurtling a foot above the pavement.

    This was just one of 86 exhibits at the fifth annual Louisville Mini Maker Faire, held on Oct. 21 and free to the public. About 8,000 people turned out for the family-friendly celebration of the Maker movement, a tech-savvy community of do-it-yourself enthusiasts. Attendees could launch a trebuchet, test locally-made video games or play music on electrified carrots wired into a computer; learn to solder, screen print a T-shirt or write computer code; race drones roughly the size and speed of a swallow or program robots to compete in a variety of tasks. A trio of men sweating underneath insulated clothing gave demonstrations on blacksmithing, glassblowing and casting aluminum medallions, which onlookers could win if they correctly identified 10 unusual tools. The live music lineup featured Introvert, Dirt One, Atomo, Planetary Overdrive and Brenda.

    The event is the brainchild of consultant and entrepreneur Campbell Boyer. Five years ago, he began dreaming of holding a festival for all things fun, crazy and innovative in Louisville. His lucky break came after a chance meeting with Maker Media CEO, DIY guru and Louisville native Dale Dougherty at the public library. When Boyer pitched his idea, Dougherty told him that he had essentially just described a Maker Faire.

    Billed as “The Greatest Show (and Tell) on Earth,” Maker Faires are a collection of festivals for invention and creativity produced by Maker Media and numbering over 200 worldwide. Participants come to share their own creations or marvel at others’, spread their know-how, sell their wares and just enjoy themselves.

    With this new direction and help from local figures including marketing consultant Ceci Conway, entrepreneur Galen Powers and an anonymous donor whose $5,000 check funded the second annual event, Boyer’s idea quickly took off.

    “We just trip over fantastic people who agree to come on board,” Boyer said. “Whenever someone has to step down, somebody else pops right up to take their place.”

    Since its launch in 2013 as part of NuLu Fest, the burgeoning event has had to change venues twice, first to Museum Row in 2015 and now to Fourth Street Live!. The exhibitors are reaping the rewards of the festival’s success, too: Bill Cloyd, founder of Newton’s Attic and fabricator of the Spintron, said the Lexington-based STEM education group has seen an influx of clients from Louisville since partnering with the Mini Maker Faire in its first year.

    Next year, the event is poised to make an even bigger leap. Maker Media asked the organizers to become a two-day featured event and drop the “Mini” from the 2018 Faire altogether. This means more exhibits, more production assistance from Maker Media and more visitors to the city. With all the hi-tech shenanigans, it might be the most logistically complex event Fourth Street Live! has hosted.

    The event’s success is a testament to Louisville’s vibrant Maker scene, which Boyer says is both larger and more cooperative than those of similar cities in the region. Individuals can drop by the LVL1 Hackerspace in Butchertown to work on pet projects, students are seeing an increase in hands-on STEM enrichment programs at schools and the FirstBuild Microfactory on South Floyd Street offers unique opportunities for launching the public’s bright ideas with corporate backing. The result is a thriving culture of innovation that helps Possibility City live up to its nickname.

    “Anyone can find the resources they need to take their idea from conception to completion if they just wander around the Louisville Mini Maker Faire,” Boyer said.

     

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