Today we officially kick off the month of June and we couldn’t think of any better way of doing that than by introducing our June STEM Star!
Our theme for June is “Build It,” which celebrates the tools of science! From screwdrivers to calipers, wrenches to bubble levels, for us, this month is all about the tools we use to build and study, create and discover!
It seems only appropriate, then, that this month’s STEM Star is someone intimately involved with the maker movement. What’s the maker movement, you ask? Well, Wikipedia describes it as “a social movement with an artisan spirit in which the methods of digital fabrication—previously the exclusive domain of institutions—have become accessible at a personal scale.” Put more simply, it’s a movement of people making things, and encouraging you to join in! If you’ve got a passion for making -- anything from paper cutting to battle robots to 3D printing -- then you’re a part of the maker movement!
Our STEM Star this month is the one and only Kim Dow! For many years now, Kim Dow has been the Maker Faire Art Director! It’s a huge responsibility that gives her a lot of control over Maker Faire’s image. But don’t let us tell you about her, why not hear it straight from our June STEM Star herself?
How would you describe Maker Faire to someone who has never heard of it before?
I usually describe it as a cross between a science fair, arts and crafts fair, and county fair, with a little bit of Burning Man for families thrown in for good measure. Over the last few years, the technology part of it has gotten increasingly advanced to the point that “science fair” probably doesn’t quite do it justice. There is an impressive amount of mind-boggling tech.
How did you get involved with Maker Faire?
Sherry Huss, the co-founder of Maker Faire, is someone I knew from a small town in Sonoma County, California where I also run a farmers market. We met there, and she asked me to help out with graphics for Maker Faire Austin in 2007; our collaboration has grown steadily since.
What is your job like on a day to day basis?
My work at Maker Faire usually begins in November/December of each year, when I start strategizing with Sherry and Bridgette Vanderlaan, Maker Faire’s Director of Marketing and PR, on look and feel for the next season. Sometimes we completely revamp the overall design, and sometimes we change it up just a little. It’s important for us to update things each year, so it feels fresh and fun for both the audience and the production team. The first ads typically start coming due in January for the flagship Bay Area event in May, and the sooner we can start sending the other collateral to print, the less stressful it is for everyone. Some of the deliverables take a few weeks to produce, so we have to plan head.
In addition to the graphics, I also curate an area at Maker Faire Bay Area called Homegrown Village that focuses on food and farming, including programming two stages, and managing health permits for all of the food makers at the event. I always say that Food Makers are the original makers! That’s a very different skillset and job than art direction, and it’s not typical for one person to do both. It’s fun to challenge two different parts of my brain.
What did you do prior to getting involved with Maker Faire?
My main gig is art direction and graphic design (dowhouse.com), and that’s what I do most days. Maker Faire is one of my clients, but I continue to design for a wide range of other business types. I feel pretty lucky to do everything from billboards and ads, to apparel and packaging, and so much more. I am particularly drawn to events where I get to design the whole package: posters and tshirts and ads and tickets and everything in between.
What things do you most enjoy making?
My main gig is art direction and graphic design and that’s what I do most days. Because I stare at a computer screen all day long, I really love working with paper. In my spare time, I design cards and other paper notions for kimdowmadethis.com—especially ones that reuse found paper and materials. I love the tactile nature of it: cutting, folding, silkscreening. And I’m like a little bird drawn to pretty paper. I keep everything and find a way to use it in a project.
How did you get the chance to design the Maker Faire mascot, Makey, and what went into the process?
The funny truth of Makey is that it wasn’t originally designed to be a mascot. Every year, I design a new batch of stickers and buttons for giveaways and promotion, and Makey was designed into one of those ages ago. As it took off, we refined it once or twice to its current version, and it has become a phenomenon. I’ve seen it on a billboard in Times square, and I know there are people who have tattoos of Makey. It’s sort of a graphic designer’s dream, to reach that kind of resonance.
In fact, I just received an email from someone I met at the Faire last weekend that said this,
"I have been making for over a decade and I cannot express how much I connect with and what the Make robot represents to me. So knowing you designed it, and meeting you, is like a spiritual experience. I'm not exaggerating!”
Sometimes inspiration, and the most significant solution, comes from the most unexpected place—and you don’t see it right away. You have to be open to those kinds of surprises.
Why do you think the maker movement is important? How do you think it is changing the way people think about STEM?
One of the things that is most vital to me about the maker movement is its inclusive nature. I have a young daughter, and it’s so important to me that she does not feel pushed out of any field, or that she can’t be good at something just because she’s a girl. The idea that girls are not good at math is a social construct, and it’s essential that the maker movement continue to embrace everyone. We just wrapped Maker Faire Bay Area, and I was gratified to see the huge number of women (and girls) and people of color who both attended and exhibited.
Moreover: when I decided to major in art, I know there were people in my family who were disappointed. I had really high math SAT scores and there was definitely a feeling that I should go into engineering or science. The truth is that art didn’t come as easily to me, and that’s why I chose it. I wanted to be challenged. That said, I’m pretty sure I was also the only art major who took advanced math as an elective when I was at university. For me, math and engineering and art are inextricably linked, in the way of da Vinci. The most advanced theories and solutions in science are incredibly elegant and beautiful. As an artist, I use math and science all the time. I feel like the maker movement is moving us back to that kind of interconnected perspective.
What advice would you have for kids who love creating things?
I was once lucky enough to see Nikki McClure speak at my local bookstore. She’s a cut paper artist I love, and she said something that really stuck with me:
"Do not fear mistakes. Mistakes make you free; you've already ruined it so then you can do whatever you want. I like to get them out of the way as soon as possible."
Mistakes are ok. That’s often how we learn the most important things. Once you’ve messed it up is when it’s most important to push forward.
What are some resources you would recommend for kids and adults to check out who want to learn more about creating things with their hands?
Find a maker space or hacker space near you! Increasingly, they are everywhere.
Maker Camp (makercamp.com) is an incredibly fun summer program that can be done online, and there are many local groups who also host them—libraries, community centers, and more. And of course: maker faires are everywhere. The largest flagship events are in the Bay Area (May) and New York (September), but there are so, so many events in the global program. Some are large, some are small, but chances are pretty good that there’s one near you.
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You can find Kim online at: