Interview with Maker Music Festival co-founder Sherry Huss, conducted by the Make Music Alliance in May 2022.
How did the Maker Music Festival get started?
Maker Music Festival evolved out of Maker Faire. I was the co-founder of Maker Faire which launched in 2006, and I helped to build that from one event in the first year, to 244 events in 45 countries around the world by 2018, with the help of a grant from the Kaufman Foundation and partnerships with The Henry Ford in Detroit and the New York Hall of Science in New York City. We were invited to do a White House Maker Faire in 2014 under the Obama administration, which was a huge help, nationally and internationally.
My husband is a developer and programmer and a musician, and the president of our local Maker Space in Sonoma County. In 2018 they wanted to do a fundraiser, and were thinking of having a Maker Faire, so I suggested that they choose one component to focus on and they chose music, which is when the idea of Maker Music Festival was launched. They did a one day festival and it was just beautiful, with digital and analog components, about 10 or 12 exhibits, and hands on activities for kids. It turned out great, and we wanted to do it again in 2019 but I got too busy, so we planned to do it in 2020—and 2020 became 2020!
In early 2020 my husband and I started work on another passion project, Decameron Row, which gave us the idea to do a music festival online, with a row of buildings that house different musical projects.
Last year, working with eight curators, we launched the Maker Music Festival with 19 buildings, 200 makers and over 300 projects; we presented 20 hours of live programming over two days, ten hours per day. Those have all been posted to our YouTube channel, and it actually turned out to be really great.
What will be different about this year’s Maker Music festival?
There is actually going to be a way to search the campus by person or by project, so it will be easier to navigate and will also provide the Makers with a link to their work, which is helpful because a lot of them don’t have a web presence; this year we will probably have about 100 new Makers and many more buildings. This year, groups such as DorkBot (San Francisco Bay Area), MakeMe (France) and UMass Lowell (Waltham, MA) will occupy entire buildings. We will probably have about 6 to 8 hours of live programming.
What is the goal of this project?
The goal is to give the community a venue to show and share what they are doing. Moving forward, our work is probably going to have more of an educational focus. We are working with AnnMarie Thomas, a Maker and the winner of the 2020 Lego Prize who works at the University of St Thomas in Minneapolis, to figure out how to use the Maker Music Festival and Campus as a tool for teachers and education, creating materials to support music education, especially in elementary and middle school, as this type of education is lacking in this country compared to internationally.
Do you have plans to return to a live format in the future?
There is nothing that beats live music, for sure, and we will see how it goes. Ultimately our goal would be to have live Maker Music Festivals, and there is no reason why they can’t happen around the world. I think the good thing is that we have created a global network of music makers from around the world that can acknowledge each other’s work and be together and engage online and hopefully in person at some point.