In “Coral City,” a miniature model made by 10-year-old Amelia Brencick, imaginary people traveled down plastic chutes coming from a domed ceiling, and a “biodigester” turned garbage into methane gas, used as energy for light and washing machines.
Nearby, a table held a prosthetic hand created using a 3-D printer.
One room over, children laughed while playing a “banana piano” made from real bananas hooked up to a computer program via a circuit board.
The designers behind those projects were among more than 85 exhibiting makers, speakers and presenters who showed works Saturday at the New Orleans Mini Maker Faire at Tulane University.
Now in its second year locally, the event was presented in partnership with the charter school Bricolage Academy as a showcase for local technology enthusiasts, scientists, artists, musicians and others.
“It’s very fun,” said Amelia, whose miniature city was created out of recycled materials as part of Metairie Park Country Day School’s engineering exhibit “Biomimicry in City Design.”
“I like trying to make stuff and using my imagination,” she said.
Boys and girls like Amelia joined older business owners and professional inventors to show off their robotics, parade throws, drones, giant origami and more as onlookers browsed the exhibits in something approaching awe.
Performances by the Chewbacchus Browncoat Brass Band, a New Orleans band created for the Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus Parade, added to the wonder. So did something called Textural Overlap performed by Matthew Blessing, a student creating experimental music at LSU.
During Blessing’s showcase, the performer controlled the music with his body using gesture detection, choosing sounds by moving his left hand and controlling the pitches at which the sounds were played by moving his right hand.
The Mini Maker Faire featured special guest Jimmy Diresta, a designer and master builder who has appeared on the Discovery Channel, HGTV and FX Networks. Lucas Weakley, the host of MAKE Magazine’s “Maker Hangar,” a video series on building a remote-control aircraft, also spoke.
“I think it’s really cool,” 8-year-old Laine Dobson said about the event as she was served lemonade in the lobby of Tulane’s Lavin-Bernick Center by an R2D2-like robot. “I like seeing all the things the people made.”
The event wasn’t just for entertainment. Proceeds from the Mini Maker Faire were slated to benefit Bricolage Academy, a tuition-free, open-enrollment school that opened Uptown two years ago. Bricolage hopes to grow from 150 kindergarten and first-grade students to a K-8 school for 675 students by 2021, according to school officials.
The original Maker Faire was held in the San Francisco Bay Aarea in 2006, when a group of creative people decided to make an event celebrating making things. By 2014, a record 215,000 people attended two flagship Maker Faires in New York and the Bay Area.
That same year, Bricolage started the New Orleans Mini Maker Faire with just 35 presenters. Named after a word meaning “constructing or creating,” the school cultivates innovation — which is why organizers say it was the perfect organization to foster the nationwide “maker movement” in New Orleans.
“In Bricolage, part of our mission is to create innovators who change the world, and that, to us, includes our students but extends way beyond a classroom and goes to an entire New Orleans regional community,” Bricolage Academy CEO Josh Densen said in a YouTube video promoting the Maker Faire. “We thought that a Maker Faire was just the way to do it and to introduce the maker movement to lots of new people in New Orleans, and a way for all the current makers who are here to come together and exhibit all of their great creations.”
The local Mini Faire doubled in size this year, and on Saturday, freelance graphic designer Anne Richardson said she was there to get inspiration from all the other creators who had come to attend and present.
“One place full of people who are inspiring — it’s amazing to me,” Richardson, 35, said. “For me, it’s a candy store. But if you’re looking for inspiration or not, you’re going to find it. This is a place where you find things you never heard of before.”
Some parents said they brought their daughters to the event as a way to inspire them or engage them in imaginative activity, but also to empower them.
“It’s a good opportunity for girls to engage in science and find ways to express themselves,” said 45-year-old Adam Krob, who works in a startup software company.
Krob was there with his 10-year-old daughter Alison, who likes to sew custom dresses, bags and infinity scarves for events like fairs at her school, Ecole Bilingue.
Betsy Dobson, a 37-year-old Tinker Lab teacher at Louise McGehee School, agreed.
“Science and tech isn’t just for boys anymore,” said Dobson, who was at the Maker Faire with her 8-year-old daughter. “It’s a really great way to be exposed to something they would not be exposed to, normally, as girls. It’s a way to see that it’s cool to tinker.”