Sept. 30, 2019-- A team of strangers works as a team with duct tape, yarn, soda cans, and cardboard to solve a real world challenge. A child helps his grandfather navigate a virtual reality space station. Two English teachers build a working robot from a box of parts. A panel takes audience questions about the role of arts in building community. It’s all just another day at the Jersey Shore Makerfest, taking place October 12 and now in its fifth year.
The festival celebrates the global phenomenon known as the “maker movement,” which brings together artists, crafters, inventors, and educators to share works of imagination and address real world problems. The largest such event, the World Maker Faire in New York City and San Francisco, recently folded, making Makerfest possibly the largest such event on the east coast.
“I don’t know of any other opportunity for people of all ages to come together to engage in such diverse experiences, certainly not for free,” says founder Marc Natanagara, assistant superintendent of Toms River Regional Schools, the host of the one-day event. “We build it, they come, and we all benefit from sharing with each other.”
In the past four years, Makerfest has drawn over 300 makers and at least 12,000 participants of all ages and backgrounds. The event has grown steadily each year, beginning in what was the Pine Belt Arena in 2015 (now named after sponsor RWJBarnabas Health) and expanding into a gymnasium, an outdoor patio, lawn, and ball field. As the 20,000-square-foot arena buzzes with activity, robotics competitions, live-streamed EdTalks, drone acrobatics, and the town Green Fair take place in adjacent spaces.
Despite a healthy dose of high tech, most of the activities can easily be replicated in the home or classroom at little cost. According to co-founder and Ed Tech Supervisor Tiffany Lucey, “It’s more about having a maker mindset than learning any one tool, and providing open ended challenges for students and even communities where the most important skill set is imagination.”
Thanks to generous sponsors, including five-year platinum supporter the Jay and Linda Grunin Foundation, the event is completely free to both attendees and makers. Past participants include giants like Apple, Barnes & Noble, Google, Home Depot, and Microsoft. It also has featured the Beachplum Quilters, Deepcut Bonsai, and the Girl Scouts among its hundreds of makers.
Makerfest isn’t a one-off annual event, either. The district continues to partner with the majority of fest participants in student activities, field trips, partnerships, and grants. Says Board President Joe Nardini, “It’s more important than ever for students to be able to have practical, hands-on experience and to open their minds to all kinds of career opportunities. Makerfest is very inspirational in that way.”
The 2019 Jersey Shore Makerfest will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, October 12, 2019, at RWJBarnabas Health Arena and High School North, 1245 Old Freehold Road in Toms River, NJ. Though admission is free, online pre-registration is requested at jerseyshoremakerfest.org.