Arts

Inventors and artists take control of technology at Ottawa’s Mini Maker Faire

Photos by Tina Wallace

IN THE SPACE between creating art and scientific invention lies an opportunity to control the world around you.

At the Ottawa Mini Maker Faire located at the Canada Science and Technology Museum on Aug. 31 and Sept. 1, inventors showed off the ways in which they are actively participating in technology’s creation.

“It shows that people don’t have to have a passive relationship to technology and to the things that they have,” said Remco Volmer, program manager for Art Engine, the organization hosting Ottawa’s Maker Faire.

Participants are part of a larger Maker Movement, which stresses a do-it-yourself approach to using and creating technology. In a world that is increasingly technological, makers are actively inventing new ways of using that technology.

The faire featured mask-makers, programmers, 3D printmakers, violin-builders, and jewelry-makers, among other types of inventors.

“Hackers, tinkerers, inventors, and hobbyists come out of their basements and their garages and show the projects that they’ve been working on to a larger audience,” Volmer said.

Many makers have science or art backgrounds, but Volmer said that this isn’t always the case. Almost anyone can take control of their environment and become a maker.

“You might easily have people in economics that are at home putting circuitry together,” Volmer said.

University of Ottawa computer science alumnus Steven Dufresne participated in the Maker Faire for the first time this year. Running the website Rimstar.org and a YouTube channel that demonstrates how to make his various inventions, he had a table set up with a 555 Timer Chip Music Player at the faire.

By turning a crank, paper with holes cut out runs over 13 copper plates, exposing them to copper wires above. Each plate is connected to a resistor, which sends a different sound wave to the speaker, making music—in this case, “Scarborough Fair.”

Having the opportunity to share his work with the larger community adds a new dimension to his maker experience.

“It’s wonderful,” Dufresne said. “Seeing the adults and kids when they crank it, as soon as they get the music, as soon as they recognize the song, a big smile appears.”

The compulsion to create things began early in Dufresne’s life.

“When I was a kid, I had my own workbench beside my father’s workbench,” he said. “Back in the Star Wars days, I was making miniature space ships from scratch, papier mâché masks, and things like that.”

This is the event’s third year and Volmer said it has tripled in size, featuring more makers and a wider audience. Each year it gets more student involvement—including both high school and university students.

For those looking to get involved with other makers, Art Engine offers events throughout the year to meet other artists and inventors, ask for advice, and learn new skills.

With the modern intersection of technology and, well, everything, it can be easy for consumers to become overwhelmed and passive. Being involved with the Maker Movement allows for agency, opportunities for exercising creativity, being part of a community, and having fun.

“On a deeper level,” said Volmer, “it’s a very empowering sort of idea.”