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''Mini Maker Faire' Highlights Fresno's Quirky Creativity, Innovation

In a region of the country known for its agriculture exploits and groundbreaking farming techniques a new sort of innovation is developing.  The Fresno Grizzlies along with Fresno Idea Works held the first ever Mini Maker Faire in Fresno on Sunday. Valley Public Radio’s Ezra Romero has this report.  

It was a regular day at the ballpark. The crack of the bat, the crowd cheering as a player hits a ball out of the stadium and Parker -- the Fresno Grizzlies mascot – making the audience smile between innings.

But just outside the stadium, a different sort of event was taking place – one that involved robots, chainsaws, rockets, four wheeled bikes, 3-D printers and others surrounded the stadium. No, this isn’t a sci-fi movie gone awry in Downtown Fresno, but rather a Maker Faire.

Over 33 makers – scientists, welders, knitters, painters and designers – lined the concourse around Chuckchansi Park this past Sunday to share their latest piece of creativity.

"I do chainsaw carving. . . I'm trying to get people involved so they can learn how to do it. That's what Ideaworks is," Steve Doroski

  The Fresno Mini Maker Faire – coined the greatest show and tell on earth – was a joint venture between the Fresno Grizzlies and Fresno Idea Works, a local group with a goal to spark innovation in the Valley.

“We wanted to create a space where people can get together and work on projects together. So that’s what Fresno Idea Works is.  The Makers Faire is an extension of that – bringing it to the community, seeing what everyone else is doing, that we’re not alone and that we want to make things,” says James Thornburgh, the president of Fresno Idea Works.

The first Maker Faire was held in San Mateo in 2005. Fairs of the same sort have popped up all over the globe including in New York, the UK and Tokyo. The events are part science fair, part county fair and part something entirely new, according to the Makers themselves.

Last year, the group said some 165,000 people attended the organization’s flagship events in New York and the Bay Area. Last month, even the White House hosted a Google Plus “hangout” dedicated to the maker movement.

Back in Fresno, around 10 local high school robotics team filled a pavilion at the stadium with robots that can do everything from shooting hoops to pitching a baseball.

Chandler Warren, is 17-years-old and part of the Bird Brains, the Buchanan High School Robotics team. His robot throws Frisbees.

“We had to build the robot in a way that it could pick up Frisbees, and get Frisbees through a feeder slot so our human players can feed our robots with Frisbees, and then we had to build a mechanism that would shoot the Frisbees into goals,” says Warren.

And then there’s Steve Doroski, a carpenter with Monster City Theme Works in Fresno. Doroski makes tree houses and pirate ships.

“I do chainsaw carving. I do signs, tikis, easy stuff. It’s just fun. I’m trying to get people involved so they can learn how to do it. That’s what Idea Works is – I’m actually going to be an instructor there when they open up to do treasure chests and little signs, chain saw carving. Trying to get people who want to learn how to be able to learn how to do this at a place like that,” says Doroski.

John Rupe was also at the Makers Faire. He is building a replica of Downtown Fresno from 1900. His detailed interpretation of what downtown used to be is made out of cardboard, paint, Elmer’s glue and pieces of copper. Rupe hopes to preserve the history of Downtown Fresno in his models.  

“During the 1920’s the Victorian architecture was viewed as hideous and gaudy, so the more ornate buildings were demolished first in the 1920’s and anything that remained had most of the flourishes removed off of them,” says Rupe.

"When the space is fully functional we plan to have everything. . . It's just going to take a little bit of time to get to that point," - James Thornburg

  Rupe made his first scale model of a Victorian home when he was 20-years-old. When he moved back to Fresno in 2011 from Washington, childhood memories in downtown Fresno evoked him to develop his hobby.  

“I’ve always been fascinated with the architecture that dosen’t exist in Fresno anymore. It’s just evolved. I wasn’t on planning on doing the full scale street. It was just a hobby,” says Rupe.

Rupe hopes the maker faire and Idea Works help bring about revitalization to Downtown Fresno.

“I was raised here and I am really glad to see that downtown Fresno is getting life back to into it. It’s always been sad to see nobody there and nothing happening in downtown. It’s really nice to see people starting to go back there and development and people starting to move in,” says Rupe.

Fresno Idea Works hopes to gather innovators in a part of the city where a hub of innovation once was.

“When the space is fully functional we plan to have everything – a full metal shop, a full wood shop, a full electronics lab, a computer lab with CAD, 3D printers, 3D scanners. It’s just going to take a little bit of time to get to that point,” says Thornburgh.

And according to Thornburgh, the Makers Faire is just the beginning for Fresno Idea Works. The group is creating a non-profit hackerspace in downtown Fresno where homegrown ideas can become a reality.

Already the sounds of tinkers, welders, sculptors and idea makers can be heard coming from Downtown Fresno, but in a year or two Thornburgh says that a culture of innovation will be in place in the region. 

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  • On the weekend, artists, scientists and tinkerers, who call themselves makers, came from around the world to New York City for the third annual World Maker Faire. It was one part science fair and one part world's fair.