Showcasing Cincinnati “makers” in a re-made Union Terminal

Only a decade after the 2006 launch of the Maker Faire concept in the Bay area, there were more than 200 Maker Faires cropping up all across the globe. The movement caught on like wildfire, spreading into a “global network of events celebrating innovation, creativity, and curiosity,” according to Make Magazine.


Each Maker Faire is an opportunity for the inventions and discoveries that happen out of sight in our communities — behind workshop doors, or in garages, kitchens, classrooms, and basements — to come out and play.


The Cincinnati Mini Maker Faire is now in its seventh year. And it is gearing up for a much-anticipated homecoming on April 13th.


For the past three years — while the Cincinnati Museum Center (CMC) was closed for building renovations — the annual Maker Faire was held at the Hamilton County Fairgrounds. And this was fitting for an event described as “part science fair, part county fair.”


But this year, it’s coming back to Union Terminal, according to event producer Becca Blumer.


Blumer and her team are enthusiastic about this, in part, because the Union Terminal itself embodies one big act of making.


“Restoration … that itself is ‘making,’” she says.


And several of the display rooms are still works-in-progress, which provides an opportunity to witness “making” in action.


The return to Union Terminal also provides the opportunity to explore the connection between “making” and early childhood play. The CMC’s Learning Through Play program, housed in the Children’s Museum, asserts play as a building block to learning and creativity.


Director of CMC community collaboration Gwen Elliott says this is an exciting and important connection to make. Because “as you play, you go into making. And as you go into making, you innovate. And as you innovate, you change the world.”


This year, there will be more than 60 makers throughout Union Terminal, offering demonstrations, workshops, and hands-on activities. A quick glance at the maker lineup reveals a variety of ages, crafts, and technologies: hard sciences, robotics, Legos, programming, design, 3-D printing, dance, music, food, artisan crafts, and plarn.


But what is plarn?


Local plarn-enthusiast Shari Petrie describes plarn as plastic yarn made from recycled bags, which is then used to create waterproof items. Her project, Shari The Bag Lady, is driven by a vision to reduce plastic waste in landfills and oceans, and to engage an entire community in fun, purposeful making.


This will be Shari’s third year at the Cincinnati Mini Maker Faire. She keeps coming back not only for the opportunity to show and tell — which she thrives on — but also for the chance to learn from others in the making community.


“I’ve learned from every maker I’ve ever seen there,” she says.


One year, a fellow “maker” showed her how to crochet with yarn, and two women ended up becoming close friends. Sadly, this friend recently passed away, and Shari plans to honor her this year by stocking her booth with a free take-away gift for kids — a simple tool cut from recycled cardboard for making DIY yarn pom-poms.


Shari embodies something at the heart of the Maker Movement: an assertion of active engagement, human creativity, and collaborative problem solving, which offers a compelling alternative to passive consumerism.


And no doubt she shares in the excitement of bringing the Maker Faire back “home” to Union Terminal.


“It’s my favorite building in the city,” she says.

Support for STEAM in the Museum is provided by Cincinnati Museum Center as it educates and inspires the leaders, builders and dreamers of this generation and the next.

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Read more articles by Sarah Dupee.

Sarah Dupee is a freelance writer, teacher, translator, and musician with a background in French and Francophone Studies.