Grasping the corporate presence at Maker Faire

The do-it-yourself festival now attracts sponsorship attention from some companies that haven't been do-it-yourself for decades. What do the indie makers and crafters think of this?

Caroline McCarthy Former Staff writer, CNET News
Caroline McCarthy, a CNET News staff writer, is a downtown Manhattanite happily addicted to social-media tools and restaurant blogs. Her pre-CNET resume includes interning at an IT security firm and brewing cappuccinos.
Caroline McCarthy
3 min read
The Ford Fiesta subcompact car was a big, splashy sponsor of World Maker Faire. Did the indie 'makers' welcome its presence? Caroline McCarthy/CNET

QUEENS, N.Y.--It was an almost inevitable question when you walked into the World Maker Faire at the New York Hall of Science this weekend: What do all these hardcore-indie home brew and crafting aficionados think of the fact that Ford Motor, Red Bull, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, and Time Warner Cable (and this site's own parent brand, CNET, which had sponsored the Maker Faire preparty on Friday night) had attached their brands to the festival?

After all, the culture of "making" has gone mainstream. Gerard Nebesky, the chef in charge of Maker Faire's traditional paella dish, has appeared on celebrity cooking competition show "Bobby Flay's Throwdown," and the do-it-yourself festival's headliners, like the "mad scientists" blowing up Mentos and Diet Coke, have gone beyond YouTube stardom into the public imagination. Even prim publication Martha Stewart Living had a big setup at Maker Faire's crafting expo, looking particularly staid alongside indie greeting-card vendors like MaybeYouShouldDie.com, which prints many a slogan that this publication cannot reprint, and McBitterson's Tasteless Wares, which hawked stylized birthday cards emblazoned with "Have a good birthday, or I'll kill this kitten!"

Watch this: Maker Faire 2010 NYC

So, to rephrase the question: Just how welcome are the likes of Ford, promoting its new Fiesta subcompact car, at a wacky culture bonanza where one of the prime attractions involves gratuitously destroying a car?

Surprisingly, the "makers" don't seem to mind.

Designer Philip Pond, perched atop a bicycle that had been turned into a bulbous, sparkly pink fish through the craft work of his FishBikez.com project, said he was glad that the Bay Area-based Maker Faire was able to drum up the funding to come to his home city of New York. "I couldn't ride this across the country," he told CNET. Along with the vehicle he was riding, he had built one other pink fish bicycle and one shaped like a polka-dot great white shark. "The fabric would've made a perfect whale shark, but we couldn't resist the big white teeth," Pond explained.

Philip Pond, creator of FishBikez, on a vehicle at Maker Faire that was most certainly not created by Ford Motor. Caroline McCarthy/CNET

"The funding needs to come from somewhere," said Andrew Carter, who was demonstrating at-home hydroponic kits called WindowFarms. "It's kind of strange to see those names, but that kind of exposure is huge."

Carter paused for a moment. "It's kind of sad if they're using it for some kind of PR-washing," he mused, but in the end he seemed to conclude that it's just not productive to complain about corporate sponsorship at something like Maker Faire, where prohibitive costs can otherwise limit mobility for exhibiting artists and "makers." The attitude at World Maker Faire, however proudly do-it-yourself, seemed to be to shrug off the Microsoft and Ford logos: If they didn't have a problem exhibiting among polka-dot shark bicycles and jet-propelled carousels accompanied by hand-painted warnings of "This Ride May Kill You," so be it.

Photos: 10 highlights of World Maker Faire

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Bre Pettis of MakerBot Industries, which was selling its high-end 3D printing kits to wide-eyed attendees, said that it would be against the Maker Faire spirit to complain about the big names dotting the array of indie makers and crafters. "Everyone here is happy to be here. It's so welcoming," Pettis said, his face growing serious. "The spirit of making is a very, very powerful thing."

He was even able to find some common ground.

"Red Bull. There's caffeine in it," Pettis said. "Of course there are fans."

A correction was made to this post: A quotation from FishBikez's Philip Pond was mixed up with one from WindowFarms' Andrew Carter.