Status was conferred by email.
Nick Bold, executive director at Technocopia, received the email about four weeks ago. It was an invitation. To the White House.
It took Bold some time to be convinced the invitation was legitimate. A video of the event shows Bold was not alone in questioning the veracity of the initial outreach.
This is the beginning of a story that culminated in Bold, wearing a suit purchased for the occasion, representing Technocopia at last Wednesday’s Makerspace Organizers Meeting at the White House.
The Maker Movement — once thought to be a loose collection of counterculture engineers, designers and tinkerers — is going mainstream.
Watch: Technocopia at the White House
“It’s happened really quick,” Bold said in a recent interview with the Sun. “When we first started this we looked around, we looked around really well, and there weren’t that many spaces. But now we’re three years in and I popped my head up to take a breath of air …
“They’re all over the place. It’s exploded.”
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President Barack Obama’s Office of Science and Technology buys into the value of the Maker Movement. The Office of Science and Technology has a secton of whitehouse.gov dedicated to the Nation of Makers.
The White House describes its support of the Maker Movement this way:
“A growing number of Americans are interested in being producers of things, not just consumers. Many of them now have access to tools such as computer-aided design software, 3D printers, laser cutters, and desktop machine tools. President Obama held the first-ever White House Maker Faire in June 2014 to celebrate the Maker Movement. He also issued a ‘call to action’ to Federal agencies, mayors, companies, universities, schools, libraries, museums, foundations, and nonprofit organizations to expand opportunities to participate in Making.
“The Maker Movement has the potential to inspire more young people to create and invent, and to promote entrepreneurship in hardware and manufacturing.”
Organized by Andrew Coy, senior advisor for Making at the Office of Science and Technology, the Makerspace Organizers Meeting was a chance for the administration to gather those who run those spaces. Bold estimated the attendance at “just shy of 200.”
Tom Kalil, deputy director for technology and innovation for the Office of Science and Technology Policy, told attendees President Obama has made supporting the Maker Movement a priority for four reasons.
First, Kalil said, making advances is an end in itself. “So whether it’s curiosity or tinkering or teamwork or self-efficacy, and creative confidence, these are all things that are worthwhile of themselves,” he said.
“The second reason is that he [President Obama] has a real interest in getting more people to get excited about STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Math learning], and advanced manufacturing and design,” Kalil said.
The Maker Movement shows promise in keeping students engaged. “If they understand what the connections are between something that they’re interested in, something they find intrinsically motivating, then they’re going to work a lot harder, and they’re going to do better,” Kalil said.
The third reason is the promise the Maker Movement holds in spurring innovation, entrepreneurship and the revitalization of American manufacturing. The Internet, cloud computing and open source software fed incredible innovation in the digital world, Kalil said.
“The question is whether the Maker Movement provides that opportunity not only in the digital world but in the physical world,” Kalil said. “In some cities for the cost of a gym membership you can get access to $1 million worth of machine tools and the training needed to use the computer numerically controlled machine tools and laser cutters and 3D printers and something that can cut through three inches of steel.
“If you have an idea you can develop a prototype for that, and then perhaps use crowdfunding in order to be able to mobilize the resources that you need to launch that.”
The final reason the administration supports the movement, Kalil said, is because it increases the number of problem-solvers. “It increases the number of people who can look at problems like improving the quality of life for people with disabilities or building a more sustainable economy or getting more young people excited about STEM and design and advanced manufacturing,” he said.
Bold said the message was received, and it was validation for makerspace organizers who had generally run independent shops with little networking between them.
“There was an acknowledgement that the Maker Movement is an effective movement,” Bold said. “It’s growing faster than anyone expected, it’s delivering real results in ways no one really expected, and it’s a bit of a counterculture movement regardless of which pieces of counterculture we want to acknowledge.”
Another government official, Bold said, put it more plainly.
“We’ve missed something,” Bold recalls the official saying. “You guys are terrifyingly effective. This movement went from nothing to. … You guys get real things done. It moves so much faster than the government was even able to keep track of.”
The morning’s introductions and presentations gave way to lunch, which yielded to sets of breakout sessions in the afternoon. Bold, representing Technocopia, chose Investing in Tomorrow’s Workforce Today, Making Educational Opportunities, Members Training, and Marketing for Makerspaces.
The government’s message in some of the afternoon sessions, Bold said, was to make the organizers aware of opportunities to grow their memberships and further their mission with the help of new and existing government programs run by, among others, the Small Business Administration, and the departments of Labor, Commerce and Education.
Overall, Bold said, the trip was “very much more validating. It was direct acknowledgment of the movement as a movement, the fact that it carries a lot of counterculture and that’s OK, that we can make this mainstream if we’re willing to cooperate and work harder.”
Bold said the White House wanted attendees to take away from the day, “That the White House wants to deliver on a national movement. They want us to work together.” It also wants “well organized and cohesive” regional units. It also pledge to help makerspace organizers navigate federal and local bureaucracies, and wants to understand better the organizers’ hopes and dreams.