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White House Makerspace Event

In early August, I got an email from the White House - the subject line was in ALL CAPS.

I was tempted to file it with my collection of other wonderful invitations (maybe my long lost cousin in Lagos is really waiting to transfer 5.88 MILLION USD IMMEDIATELY), but I'm glad I didn't. Because as it turns out, the email was legitimate, and I was invited to represent the Brightmoor Maker Space at a special meeting called "Nation of Makers" at the White House on August 24, 2016.

The Nation of Makers gathered organizers of maker spaces from across the country - some traveling from as far as Juneau, Alaska and Waikiki, Hawaii - for a day of meetings and task groups to direct some of the energy, enthusiasm, and diverse expertise of the maker movement. I was able to meet some of the creators of spaces I have long admired including:

I had a chance to represent Southeast Michigan maker space initiatives with my Brightmoor Maker Space partner, Bart Eddy. Also representing the region were:


Nation of Maker attendees heard from a number of idealistic, whip smart, energized, and energizing White House staff, including:

Each staff member offered calls to action to our cohort, urging us to consider our work as collective endeavor towards global goals and asking that our questions probe the challenges we face as a collective humanity.

The information and expertise sharing that happened in DC came not only from the network that was formed by this convening, but through the staff experts who worked with us to define questions. (Learning note: these White House meetings were expressly designed to identify rather than answer questions and then proceed rapidly into highly focused task groups to respond. There is a lot to follow up on and the continuing threads of communication are alternately exhilarating and endless.) Session facilitators were as follows:

  • Aden Van Noppen, Policy Senior Advisor at the Office of Science and Technology, facilitated inquiry sessions.
  • Vikrum Aiyer, the USPTO Chief of Staff, facilitated an intellectual property session.
  • Bob Russell, NSF Program Director, facilitated a health care funding opportunities session.
  • Jenn Gustetic, NASA SBIR/STTR's Program Executive, facilitated a session on Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs.
  • Austin Brown, White House OSTP Assistant Director for Clean Energy and Transportation, led additional programs.
  • Edward Metz, the Department of Education's Program Manager, and Albert Palacios, OCTAE Education Program Specialist, led a session on education programs.

I was particularly lucky to get to meet and spend some time with NEA Arts Education Specialist, Lakita Edwards. As one of the NEA's grantees, I was excited to represent the Brightmoor Maker Space at the meeting and help other potential grant seekers craft their proposals and seek opportunities.

Among many big (and small) questions that continue to resonate are the very different missions, assumptions, and definitions of the maker community. There was a clear subset of "hacker spaces," including computer coding-specific spaces and hacker spaces with a wonderfully subversive ethos whose work encompassed bio-hacking and digital fabrication. Some of the bio-hacking/digi-fab spaces had manufacturing interests, while others were in pursuit of new tech. Also represented were K-12 initiatives and spaces devoted to community empowerment and production. These are closer to the heart of our Brightmoor Maker Space.

In the near term, I am working with the Midwest/ Mountain West spaces to co-organize a regional series of events. In the longer term - who knows? But moving forward, I know one thing: I'll open all emails that come my way from the White House.

Article by Nick Tobier, Stamps Professor and Senior Counsel to the Provost on Civic Engagement.