In an age when it's hip to buy local, Memphis-based makers, artisans, and micro-manufacturers are coming together to promote their products and strengthen their community. And they've got the backing of Mayor Jim Strickland.
On Tuesday, June 21st, Strickland will sponsor a public Makers Faire in front of City Hall from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Local vendors will sell everything from handmade home decor to artisan food products. Makers, including a crew from the National Ornamental Metal Museum, will host demos, and food trucks will be onsite. To kick it off, Strickland will sign the Mayor's Maker Challenge, a pledge to support the growth of local makers.
The city-backed event is one of several local maker events happening next week as part of the White House's National Week of Making, which runs from June 17th to 23rd.
The definition of "maker" has evolved a little over the past few years. While the term was once mostly associated with engineering-oriented pursuits, such as robotics or 3D printing, it's now used as a wider term that also embraces a community of artisans, who may make everything from jewelry to ceramics to homemade jams and jellies.
"It's anything that can be made by hand," said Brit McDaniel, who makes ceramics through her company Paper and Clay.
McDaniel was one of five Memphians who recently traveled to Brooklyn, New York, for a Makers Cities Summit, sponsored by the craft-vending website Etsy. Memphis was chosen as one of 13 cities (from more than 126 cities that applied) to attend the summit.
"As part of that summit, we worked to create an action plan for making Memphis a city that will support makers," McDaniel said.
That action plan included convincing Strickland to sign the Mayor's Maker Challenge, through which the city will pledge to develop strategies for education, training, and workforce development for makers and to do more to support makers working in under-served communities. It also calls on the city to host a maker roundtable, which is scheduled to occur just before the Makers Faire next weekend.
"That will bring 10 makers from diverse backgrounds to sit at the table with the mayor and other city leaders to discuss their experiences, what the obstacles have been, and what's working well," McDaniel said.
The Week of Making will kick off on Friday, June 17th with an Etsy-sponsored Meet Your Makers Happy Hour at City & State from 5 to 7 p.m. That event will function as a networking event for local makers.
Also kicking off on Friday, June 17th, is a makers needs-assessment survey for the Made By Project, a new initiative aimed at getting a better understanding of the local maker economy. While the Etsy summit action plan is more of a short-term plan, the Made By Project's organizer Nicole Heckman says they're looking at the long-term needs of Memphis' maker community.
"The Made By Project's goal is to come away with an implementable action plan of things that Memphis can do to support the maker, artisan, and micro-manufacturer community," Heckman said. "That could be anything from more studio space to educational offerings to services, programs, financing, or micro-loans."
City of Memphis Grants Coordinator Maria Furhmann, who also traveled with the Memphis delegation to the Etsy summit, points out the importance of small-scale makers on the local economy.
"If you get a factory with 500 jobs, that factory could pull out. But if you start 100 new small businesses with 5 employees each, they're not going to disappear all at once," Furhmann said. "Investing in these artisans and micro-manufacturers is a way to encourage neighborhood economic revitalization, possible uses for vacant commercial spaces, and it promotes living wages, talent attraction, and cultural promotion."