Posit: You are a major international celebration of all things creative, and you have a huge show, expo and get together for inventors from all across the continent planned. You’re expecting something like 5 000 people to show up and marvel at African inventions of all shapes and sizes to turn up in about a week, and your host venue calls to say that it’s just been closed down for at least six months.
What do you do?
If you’re the organisers of Maker Faire Africa, you roll your sleeves up and get on with the job of making sure the show happens regardless. Making do and mending is, after all, at the heart of the maker ethos. And it’s a good job, too.
The ‘Faire had been planned to take place in the Museum of African Design (MOAD) on Commissioner Street near the Maboneng Precinct in central Johannesburg next week. This weekend, however, the museum was forced to vacate its premises because of problems involving construction work in the apartments above the building and the types of permit owned by the landlord. With just over a week before the show, Maker Faire Africa was homeless.
Jennifer Wolfe, the lead organiser of Maker Faire Africa for this year’s event, told htxt.africa that the search for a new venue began immediately they heard the news about MOAD, because “quitting is never an option for us”.
“Maker culture is very much about dealing with challenges,” Wolfe explains, “It may be a lack of resources, of materials or tools. It can be spending weeks, if not months on your build, only to find that when you’re ready to flip the switch it doesn’t work as you had planned. As a maker myself, I’ve spent equal time, if not more, tearing things apart and rebuilding them – this is the ethos of a maker.
“And it’s even easier for me personally, then for many makers across Africa. At home in New York, I can just hop the subway and find what I need in a few minutes. But for many inventors here, they face far bigger challenges, such as suddenly being without power for two days, and yet they continue, not to be stopped, never to be stopped. So, in honor of what we see as a fundamental superpower in Africa’s makers, we certainly were going to stop either.”
Ironically, adds Wolfe, one of the reasons the team were keen on bringing Maker Faire Africa to Johannesburg this time round was that they thought it would be slightly more straightforward – logistically – than in other locations.
With plans afoot for the arrival of a robot orchestra, dozens of 3D printers, hardware hacking specialists from Intel and Standard Bank, BRCK, crowdfunding and cryptocurrency specialists and a giant 40 foot sculpture all scheduled to descend on Johannesburg, the scramble for a new home has been frantic.
And it’s also paid off.
Maker Faire Africa is moving location just down the road to the excellent Sci Bono Discovery Centre, and will take place all day on Friday 5th and Saturday 6th December. It’s free to the public, and a full program of events, expos and workshops will be published shortly.
“We’re really excited to be working with Sci Bono,” says co-founder and director Emeka Okafor, “They’re looking to collaborate with seeding and nurturing the maker community in Johannesburg on an ongoing basis.”
This is the fifth time Wolfe, Okafor and their co-organisers – all of whom work on a voluntary basis for the event – have held Maker Faire Africa. The first event was in 2009 in Ghana, and since then it has been held in Egypt, Nigeria and Kenya too. At the last event, in Lagos in 2012, a group of school girls won worldwide fame for inventing a generator that runs on urine. (We recently caught up with class rivals who went one better and made a generator that ran on old engine oil and water.)
Maker Faires are common all over the world where they’re a focus for do-it-yourself maker culture, which encompasses all areas of creativity from electronics and building robots to design and leatherwork. If there’s a common thread it’s the theme of self-sufficiency and sharing ideas and skills for the greater good.
Wolfe says that this is something the team try to bring out especially in Maker Faire Africa, where there’s a clearer focus on how makers can help society develop by sharing skills and resources, and create locally specific inventions and businesses for economic growth.
Keep your eyes out here for more news about Maker Faire Africa, and check on the official site for updates.