Southwest Maker Fest encourages kids, adults to innovate

Photo by Synio Nala
Photo by Synio Nala.

The “maker” movement is relatively new, but it’s thriving in Mesa this month as Southwest Maker Fest takes over downtown for a day. The free public festival celebrates all things DIY — but with a high-tech twist and an emphasis on collaboration.

The Saturday, March 11, event offers interactive exhibits, workshops and demonstrations to inspire both kids and adults to make innovative new products, art, food, clothing and more. In its fourth year, the festival is expected to draw 4,000 to 5,000 visitors.

“There are so many resources out in the community, but people are just not connected to all of them,” says Robin Baskin McNulty, co-founder of Southwest Maker Fest. “So one of our core missions was to host this one-day event where all the different organizations and people could get connected with other new or like-minded people.”

Makers are limited only by their own imaginations, so creations can run the gamut from repurposed robots and new software to cutting-edge fashion and 3-D printed art. Projects emphasize hands-on learning through doing, sustainability and locally sourced materials. The maker culture encompasses sewing, woodworking and metalworking, as well as handcrafted foods and beverages — such as homebrewing, pickling and cheesemaking.

The festival will include a separate N-Compass Village (formerly called Young Maker Village) for kids. This area features works by local young artists and celebrates STEAM — science, technology, engineering, art and math — education. N-Compass is intended to be a prototype for educators and students to experience what project-based learning could look like in a school setting.

Past youth exhibits — which are near the i.d.e.a. Museum — have included 3-D chalk art by students at AZ Aspire Academy, lessons in computer coding with the kids of AZ Code Club and a display from Dobson High School’s manufacturing club featuring a wooden neck tie. (Admission is free at the i.d.e.a. Museum during the festival.)

Last year, Garrett Lee Haynie of Mesa won the Young Maker Award for his glassblowing skills. Garrett, 11, learned from his mother how to melt and shape glass beads using a torch. The fourth-grader has mastered his craft to the point where he can take impromptu suggestions from kids in the audience.

“I ask them what they would like to see me make, and they tell me a banana, and it’s always really funny,” Garrett says. “I think they like to watch me because I’m such a young kid, and if they see me, they will think that they can make things, too.”

Organizers hope to spread that same confidence to other kids — and adults — that anyone can make and innovate.

“I think it’s important to encourage creative thought and processes,” Baskin McNulty says, “because if you look at jobs in the future, most employers are looking for problem-solvers. They’re looking for people who think creatively and who work collaboratively. And the beauty of Maker Fests is that it’s not actually about do-it-yourself, it’s about doing it together, and I think that that’s becoming essential as we move forward into this very high-tech world.”

If you go: Southwest Maker Fest is noon to 7 p.m. Saturday, March 11, near Macdonald and Main streets in downtown Mesa. It’s free to attend. i.d.e.a. Museum admission is also free during the festival.

More “maker” resources:

CREATE at Arizona Science Center is a community hub and maker’s workshop offering studio time and classes in 3-D printing, sewing, etching, woodworking, laser-cutting and more. 600 E. Washington St., Phoenix. 602-716-2000 or

Mesa Arts Center offers hundreds of classes in ceramics, glass, graphic arts, jewelry and metals, movement, music, photography, sculpture, theater and more. 1 E Main St, Mesa. 480-644-6500 or