WÄRKers, unite!

Last weekend (20-21 Oct 2012) was Finland’s first maker festival, WÄRK:fest, in Helsinki’s Cable Factory. And what an event it was! I haven’t yet seen the numbers of exhibitors and visitors, but I think the organizers should pat themselves on the back.

Everywhere you turned, someone was playing with a robot, knitting a handbag,or 3D printing an object. The best thing for me was watching these various groups meet: the digital geek sitting and chatting with the woman spinning wool into yarn; the 3D printing enthusiast learning about growing mushrooms at home; and the environmental activist city-makers learning how to code.
WÄRK:fest venue

One key indicator of success for Nuppu Stenros, one of the event organizers from Alternative Party, was that the word ‘värkkays’ had entered the Finnish vocabulary as a way to describe this whole making activity. As Nuppu explained to me on Saturday, the Finnish word for maker (‘tekijä’) is just too general and doesn’t capture the 21st century meaning of the word, where people want to invent, craft, fabricate, and codify their own ideas – and then share them with others.

word wall
collecting people's dreams for the city library

I’m not sure what I expected to see beforehand, but what I *didn’t* see was any kind of over-commercialism. Of course there could have been room for equipment suppliers and material distributors to have stands – and that could have brought valuable information for makers – but the lack of company brochures and finished product ranges was refreshing. Instead, the atmosphere was more about presenting what individuals and groups are experimenting with.

Even so, later one of the exhibitors brought this point to my attention: how many of the ‘värkkaajat’ are actually presenting their experiments as part of their entrepreneurial activities. Here we’re not just crossing the line between hacker and craftsperson, we’re deliberately blurring the borders between work and hobbies and trying to see the opportunities for revenue and income from Making. Of course this is not new; designers, artists and craftspeople have always played with ways to create for profit and not-for-profit. But if this also offers us a viable channel to drive through more sustainable solutions, then I’m going to keep an eye on it.

emotional meters
Tuomo Tammenpää's emotional electricity meters

And this was the best surprise of all for me: how many exhibitors were explicitly addressing environmental issues through their work and what they were presenting. If *this* is the future of the Maker Movement, then I can suddenly see real pathways to a more sustainable society. Whatever small seeds and future networks have been planted as a result of WÄRK:fest 2012, the potential is now so much greater for collaboration and knowledge-sharing.

WÄRKers, Do It Yourself but don’t forget to also Do It Together.

hackers hula