Almost three years ago, oil painter Jessi Taylor found herself getting a wee bit upset with traditional artists.
“When you go to art shows, people are really secretive about what they do,” she said. “I’ll ask somebody, ‘How did you get this really deep red in your painting?’ And they’re like, ‘Well, that’s my signature red, I can’t tell you that.'”
Then she went to the very first Maker Faire in New York. Shortly after, she attended a HacDC event. At both spaces, she found her questions not only well-received, but readily fielded with enthusiasm. “They’re excited to share everything,” she said.
“We want this community in Delaware,” Taylor said. “We want to be around people like that all the time.”
"It's not about 3D printers. It's about the whole thing — the exchange, the community."
So she helped launched Barrel of Makers, a community concentrated on connecting makers to makers, creating awesome stuff and raising awareness in the ultimate search for curious makers-to-be. She’s now President of the Board.
For a while, it was just Taylor and a handful of like-minded friends planning and plotting ways to find and rally more makers in Delaware. Eventually, they decided to hold a public interest meeting at the Newark Free Library. Over 20 makers were in attendance.
“We had an assumption that people weren’t making stuff in Delaware because they didn’t have cool toys,” she said. “We asked [attendees], ‘What is it that you would want from a makerspace?'”
The overwhelming response? Community.
“We want to have people to bounce ideas around with and get inspired by what somebody else is doing,” she said. “We don’t need to spend all this time planning and having a space, we can just have community now.”
Barrel of Makers had found its mission: corral Delaware makers, invest in partnerships with local organizations and teach classes in their spaces and at a borrowed space at the Creative Vision Factory in Wilmington.
The group’s big project, which debuted at the Brandywine Festival of the Arts, were little creations Barrel of Makers calls “drawbots” — tiny drawing robots operated by Atari controllers. At BFA, the drawbots drew the attention of a few educators who teach kids with disabilities. So, Barrel of Makers came into their space to put the drawbots to work.
Taylor said the kids were naturals. “Their wheelchairs usually have joysticks, so they were used to using them,” she said.
Then came time to put together an exhibit for Maker Faire. Taylor said the Barrel of Makers community was entertaining two ideas. The project they ended up working with was a giant 8 ft. x 8 ft. Lite Brite.
The second idea? Maybe not entirely legal. Taylor calls it the “explosion booth.”
Working with a maker who specializes in fireworks, Barrel of Makers was going to create a soundproofed, insulated box that dispersed the kind of knick-knacks you’d get from a machine in a grocery store. Except with this machine, users would be able to push a button and watch their new toy explode. According to Taylor, Maker Faire said their fire marshal wouldn’t have it.
But it could still happen. Barrel of Makers has the explosion booth on the backburner for this year’s Maker Faire. First, they want to find a makerspace.
“We were based out of Newark but we’re in Wilmington mostly. They wanted us here,” Taylor said. “Wilmington needs us more than Newark, where they always have something going on because of the college.”
Still, Taylor said it’s possible they’ll end up back in Newark. Her biggest concern would be having makers from Newark travel to Wilmington, and vice versa. But Taylor said there’s a solution for that.
“I’m hoping if we start a makerspace, there will be others popping up, too,” she said, adding that the makers movement seems to grow one maker at a time. “Everything I do, I’ll get one or two people who identify with it.”
Why so slow? Taylor said it’s because most people tend to think of makers being all about trendy technology, when they should be thinking of everyone in the community who has a skill and an idea — any skill, and any idea.
“It’s not about 3D printers,” Taylor said. “It’s about the whole thing — the exchange, the community.”
That even includes traditional artists who don’t want to give up their secrets.