#WeekofMaking: Dorothy Jones-Davis on the Future You Can Make

Part of a series about 2017 National Week of Making.

You are now entering National Week of Making! The United States now has a whole week-long celebration of people who take it upon themselves to make the world they want to live in (hint: that’s us). If it wasn’t already on your calendar, hopefully it will be from now on. It’s pretty well timed to rally us all to finish our playa projects, you must admit.

Dorothy Jones-Davis, Executive Director of Nation of Makers

Making your own stuff for practical or pleasurable reasons might seem second-nature to you, but it doesn’t take much looking around to see that, by and large, our economy and culture expects us to consume stuff instead. Makers everywhere are standing up to that, though, and this week, we can shout it from the rooftops. All week, we’ll be highlighting interesting maker projects from Burner and Burner-adjacent worlds here in the Journal to give you a taste of how big and interesting the maker movement has become.

How did this week come about? Who’s responsible for making making into a thing at the national level? We talked to Dorothy Jones-Davis, Executive Director of Nation of Makers, to get the skinny.

What is National Week of Making all about?

Dorothy Jones-Davis: It’s a weeklong celebration of creation. It’s a celebration of all the things people make around the country from robots to art to textiles. Whether it’s your science fair project or a fabulous Sunday dinner, we want to celebrate it. It’s an extension of all the things being made in our country.

People can get involved at weekofmaking.org. You’ll find events all over the country. Local maker spaces and organizations are holding free or low-cost events for people to get started in making or find the thing they love making. There are also Community Build Projects where folks will come up with solutions to problems in their community together. You can also post your own event.

We’re just trying to encourage everybody to celebrate and be proud of what they’ve made and come up with things to make with others that will enrich their communities.

Share your projects tagged #weekofmaking on social media!

What a cool thing to be in charge of. How did you get into being a maker at all, let alone running Nation of Makers?

DJD: I have been a maker since I was a kid. I come from a pretty underprivileged background, I grew up in housing projects in Bridgeport, Connecticut. My dad was a musician. He had a lot of very odd jobs, including at Goodwill and the Salvation Army. He would bring home all this really cool stuff that was in disrepair. I was probably about five or six when I learned how to use a soldering iron!

“I was probably about five or six when I learned how to use a soldering iron!”

The world around me was such that if I wanted to have some of the things that my friends had, or that I coveted, a lot of times I would have to make do and make stuff from what I had.

My dad’s African-American, my mom is Caucasian, but I’m also part Cherokee and Blackfoot on my dad’s side. I’m a quarter native, and in Bridgeport there was this after-school program I called “Indian Class”. We learned native crafts like beading and weaving as part of our heritage.

I didn’t tie it into any particular movement or what that even meant. It was just how I grew up.

It’s cool that it happened in childhood for you. In the Burner and maker communities, there’s a bunch of adults spending tons of time and money making things, even though adulthood nowadays doesn’t seem to support this kind of thing. How did making become a career for you?

DJD: First I ended up in science because my mom has epilepsy. I was looking for a way to help her. So I got a PhD in neuroscience. In the back of my head, though, I was still a maker, tinkering around with stuff. I was studying electrical impulses in the brain, which funnily enough taught me about the properties of electricity.

The big picture began to fascinate me. I wondered, who participates in science? I talked to chancellors and committees as a postdoc, and people started to tell me I should consider policy. That’s what brought me to D.C. from Oakland. I ended up at the National Science Foundation in engineering education. They wanted to learn how to broaden participation, particularly for people of color. You know, you’re 75 percent more likely to be an engineer if you know one in your first degree of family or friends. If you have underrepresentation, you’ll never fix it!

They asked me to study what they called “disruptions in education”. That’s where I began to look into the maker movement.

“If children can envision themselves as makers or creators, it changes the way they can look at the world.”

It’s all about agency. The idea of making enables you to see yourself as an engineer or an artist or someone who can change the world around you. If children can envision themselves as makers or creators, it changes the way they can look at the world.

As I explored this further, I met Kipp Bradford, and he, Trey Lathe of Maker Ed, some other AAAS fellows and I came up with the idea to create a Maker Faire in D.C. That turned into National Maker Faire, and we worked with the White House on the White House Maker Faire. At the end of the Obama Administration, we were selected as one of the initiatives that should survive as a brick-and-mortar organization in our own right, and I was picked as Executive Director.

I am exceptionally fortunate, and I know how fortunate I am.

How do you define what a Maker with a capital M is?

DJD: A maker is someone who can envision a future they can create. It’s super powerful when we think about from the perspective of children, especially children from marginalized backgrounds. I think each of us is born wanting to do something positive.

We’re all transient. We’re only here for a fixed amount of time, we have our impact, and then we leave. Our life’s work is a project. My value system starts there. If you think about your life as your life’s work, you can see how things that are transient have the possibility of having huge impacts.

“A maker is someone who can envision a future they can create.”

There aren’t that many spaces out there devoted to this creativity. How do you see maker spaces evolving, and what’s your hope for the future of devoted spaces to creativity?

DJD: The key issue I see is the sustainability of spaces. We have been successful at creating maker spaces, but at the same time, every time you hear of a new space, you hear of another space closing down. The fact that TechShop is closing a space in Pittsburgh, a prime maker community, is kind of like, whoa, what’s going on?

The post-1950s nine-to-five structure is not conducive to innovating or creating as a society. There’s all this research now that shows the importance of play in adulthood. There’s this need to release and take some time to let your imagination run wild. When you talk to folks about this creative process and how it fuels them, it’s pretty amazing. The people who are able to find that balance, it’s incredible.

“The post-1950s nine-to-five structure is not conducive to innovating or creating as a society.”

We need to introduce communities to the utility of maker spaces. The question is, how do spaces like this fit into the ecosystem of the community? We’re all in search of community and connectedness. A lot of the spaces that exist bring together an actual community around a general goal. The thing you’re making is not as important as getting together, sharing your viewpoint, and being able to find your tribe.

These are the goals behind our Maker Town Hall Microgrant program. We’re creating town and city conversations in 11 communities about what role these spaces play in your community. What role would you like them to play? Then we want to use this information to target maker art, education, job creation and urban development at specific community problems.

Tell us more about what you mean by “find your tribe.” That sounds rather Burning Man-ish.

DJD: Some people thrive on the fringe, but I think it’s particularly human to want to find your tribe. Burners get it, because you’re working together to create the community you want from scratch. Having [Burning Man co-founder] Harley [K. Dubois] on our board is great because we wanted to make sure that we are covering spaces that aren’t always tied in to the mainstream maker community. We have all these communities, and we want to make sure there’s a fluidity, so that people can find their tribe wherever it is.

“I think it’s particularly human to want to find your tribe.”

What I like to think about is, what communities don’t have a tribe currently? As we think about marginalized populations, how do we help people find their tribe? How can we move out of silos? I’m a very collectivist kind of person. I think we’re always better together.

We generally evolve as a people through creation and innovation together. In the Renaissance, people of various, diverse fields came together, and that’s where you saw innovation. It happens at these intersections.

About Dorothy Jones-Davis:

Dorothy joined Nation of Makers as its Executive Director in March 2017. An eternal optimist and connector, Dorothy is deeply interested in finding ways to create connections between a diversity of makers, leveraging their collective skills to harness solutions for the world’s challenges, grand and small.

She envisions Nation of Makers as a collaborative community, one where organizations of different types can learn from one another and share best practices, and where shared engagement fosters the development of long lasting partnerships that have outcomes that reach farther than any one entity could accomplish alone.

For more of her story, check out her blog post, “Why I Make”.


Images courtesy of Nation of Makers

About the author: Jon Mitchell

Jon Mitchell

is the publisher of the Burning Man Journal, the Jackrabbit Speaks newsletter, and the Burning Man website. His playa name is Argus. He co-wrote a big story about spending 24 hours at the Temple of Juno in 2012. He’s been a Burner since 2008. Email: argus@burningman.org

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