OAKLAND -- As school swings into gear and the weather starts to cool, it's time for the return of the East Bay Mini Maker Faire, a "downsized" version of the popular San Mateo-based Maker Faire.
With Oakland getting national attention for its strong "do it yourself" and creative scene, the fair on Sunday is expected to be an exceptional showcase of talent.
"Oakland is becoming known for maker culture," said Jennifer Pahlka, a fair organizer and the founder of Code for America, an organization that sends programmers to work on local government issues. Pahlka is also currently the deputy U.S. chief technology officer.
The fair encompasses a wide range of science, craft, art, music and food creativity, with much of it hands-on. There are more than 170 booths, workshops and talks at which people can learn everything from how to solder to how to build a chicken coop.
Crafters can take on clothes hacking at the Swap-O-Rama-Rama, while anyone can build and enter a toy car into the Nerdy Derby. Montclair-based HoneyBee 3D, one of the first retail 3-D printing shops, will be there to demonstrate just what you can make with a 3-D printer, as will a giant walking geodesic dome created by welder Scott Parenteau.
One thing Pahlka, also a Park Day School parent, is particularly looking forward to seeing is the Julia Morgan School for Girls' "maker" class, which is bringing speed boats and bridges designed by the students.
"It's easy for this stuff to be owned by 'boy culture,' " Pahlka said.
The East Bay is lucky to be a center of the kind of creative, technical movement that is known as "maker culture," according to Sabrina Merlo, head organizer for the mini maker fair. That makes the East Bay fair particularly vibrant.
"We have the home court advantage," she said.
The East Bay is home to the Crucible, the nationally known industrial arts workshop center, as well as a massive community workshop called Ace Monster Toys.
"Oakland's a big deal," said Cathy Shields, the events coordinator for Park Day School, where the fair is held.
And it's a growing movement. Just over the border in Berkeley is Mothership HackerMoms, a newer collective where women are encouraged to build, deconstruct and invent. They're bringing two projects to the fair. One is a kid-friendly wood art project, while the other asks people to reimagine the family-friendly car for the modern age. With 30 to 40 members, HackerMoms provides members a space with the tools and materials needed to create, all with the added benefit of child care.
"There had never been a hackerspace for women," said co-founder Sho Sho Smith. "We were the first."
The steady growth of the maker movement is why the East Bay fair is one of the largest of the many independent events derived from the original San Mateo-based Maker Faire, which draws in more than 120,000 people every year. The first Maker Faire was held in 2006, sponsored by computer industry publisher O'Reilly Media. Since then, there have been Maker Faires around the world, with this year's events including fairs in New York and Rome. The popularity of the fairs, large and small, is part of the larger do-it-yourself trend.
"There just seems to be a need to recapture a culture that's not about consuming things," Pahlka said.
The "mini" fairs like the East Bay Mini Maker Faire are licensed by Maker Media but planned, programmed and run by independent locals, although the parent company assists with organization, branding and promotion. Merlo said it's that local feel that sets the "mini" fairs apart from the parent fair.
"It's what the community brings to the table," she said. "It's a crowdsourced event."
Now in its fourth year, the Mini Maker Faire festival is bigger than ever. Last year, there were more than 5,000 attendees.
"It's definitely going strong," she said.
The East Bay Mini Maker Faire is organized by the parents at Park Day School, a private kindergarten-to-eighth-grade school with a progressive curriculum, and the fair is held on the grounds of the school and the adjacent city-owned arts facility Studio One. Profit from the fair goes to Park Day School.
The school location means that the fair is particularly family-friendly, although it's not a kids' event, Merlo stressed.
"That's the magic of Maker Faire," Merlo said. "It's an adult conversation that kids are invited to."
For Merlo herself, the maker movement has become a job. After her experience with the first East Bay mini fair, she was hired by Maker Media, an offshoot of O'Reilly Media. Now a program director, she flies around the country working on content for the flagship fairs and also runs the licensing for the mini fairs.
But it's her hometown festival, the one she started, that has a special place in her heart.
"This is local. This is also more personal," she said. "This is right dead-center in the town where I live."
But asked to pick her favorites, Merlo can hardly choose.
"I love it all, I swear," she laughed.
What: East Bay Mini Maker Faire
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday
Where: Park Day School, 360 42nd St., Oakland, and Studio One Art Center, 365 45th St., Oakland
Cost: $15 for adults; $12.50 for children; advance purchase at www.ebmakerfaire.wordpress.com; $20 for adults; $15 for child at door