Michael Darfler

December 2013


I still have no idea what YOLO and shiitake mushrooms have to do with one another, but those were the first words that I heard, and continued to hear, when I walked in to DM+D yesterday and found the place a mess. Don’t worry, it was the good kind of mess. You know it’s a good day when you walk in and every single piece of furniture in the space has literally been turned upside down, and there are 8 teenage girls building forts out of tables, cardboard, sheets, chairs, couches, and whatever they can get their hands on. The level of energy and excitement in the space was beyond palpable, so much so that even employees from the Science Center came down to blow off steam and reenergize.

“I think I really needed that!” Jeana, Science Center’s STEAM Intern, explained to me this morning.

There is a lot of emphasis in the “Maker Movement” on laser cutters, 3D printers and other digital technologies. I’ve been approached so many times by educators and students, teens and adults, parents and kids alike, who want to know about our 3D printer.

“How does it work?”
“What do you make with it?”
“When is it going to be working?”

What I try to tell these people and others is that paradoxically a maker space is not about the tools. Tools, in many ways just represent the last stages of an idea that may have been conceived months, if not years, ago by people who’s sense of wonder, creativity and tenacity allowed him or her to work through a problem from start to finish.

What yesterday made clear was that the best maker spaces are still 90% imagination and creativity. Nothing that the girls were using plugged in, was operated by a computer, or was special ordered from a boutique craft store in Williamsburg. Yes, we have a laser cutter and yes, it’s totally awesome, but it’s only good at one thing. Cutting things with a laser. A piece of cardboard can be a submarine. A sheet of fabric can be an ocean. A stick of wood can be magic wand. Making is dirty, chaotic and messy, but that is an integral part of how we develop tenacity and understanding. Tenacity to work through failures, and an understanding of the potentiality of our environment.

Making happens everyday and you don’t need a computer to do it on. Pull out those old legos. Build cities from scraps of wood. It doesn’t need to be pretty, perfect or precise. It needs to be fun, honest and exciting.