How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Maker Movement – Part I

Makers are more than just people who make things. Makers represent a community. Makers are connected- through physical makerspaces and online communities. Makers share what they know and learn from each other. Even though I’ve spent a life time making things- musical instruments, art, clothing, furniture, electronic circuits, huge messes, noisy rackets, etc.- I only became a ‘maker’ when I connected with that community. – Chuck Stephens, Tampa

Eureka Factory Team

Chuck Stephens, 2nd from left, with Joel Croteau and Steve and Terri Willingham, of the Eureka Factory

Chuck Stephens is a Tampa artist, musician and Maker of All Trades.  He’s a Creative Associate with Eureka! Factory, which produces the independent maker festival, Gulf Coast MakerCon, and helps with various projects, like the company’s recent Bocatron build.  He helped inspire the idea of the Indie Makers Network.  In this four part series, Chuck chronicles his journey to the maker community, what makes it such a remarkable community and how it changed his life and can change yours.


It all comes down to a quote that, honestly, my twenty year old self would have been embarrassed to know that I believed so whole-heatedly in my forties. Young punk rock Chuck would have shouted something about me being a soft, dirty hippie and run off to spray paint something angry in an alley. Since I buried that jerk a while back, I can share this with you without fear of retribution-


“Follow your bliss.

If you do follow your bliss,
you put yourself on a kind of track
that has been there all the while waiting for you,
and the life you ought to be living
is the one you are living.
When you can see that,
you begin to meet people
who are in the field of your bliss,
and they open the doors to you.
I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid,
and doors will open
where you didn’t know they were going to be.
If you follow your bliss,
doors will open for you that wouldn’t have opened for anyone else.”
Joseph Campbell

TBMMF 2012Even though I’ve spent a life time making things- musical instruments, art, clothing, furniture, electronic circuits, huge messes, noisy rackets, etc.- I only became a ‘maker’ when I connected with that community. I kept my light under a bushel for years until I found the folks who showed me how to use it to light up the whole room.

It all started at the Florida State Fair four years ago when I met Wayne Rasanen of the Tampa Bay Inventor’s Council. I had been reading Make magazine and following their blog, so I was aware of the maker movement, but with Make’s main events being held in NY and SF I assumed the phenomenon would take a while to trickle down to Tampa. I mentioned to Wayne that I wished there was a Maker Faire in Tampa and he told me that the first one was coming up in a few months. Interesting…

I’d always been a creative and a continual learner, but I worked alone and didn’t have many contacts who were into the kinds of things I was into. A quick search brought me to the web site for the Tampa Bay Mini Maker Faire. Wow! Here was a group of folks doing cool and interesting things. I wanted in on the fun!

we speak your language

Chuck’s great stencil design for our first Maker festival in 2012

I’ve always found that people are receptive to gifts, so I created a poster design for them and sent it to the event’s sponsor, Terri Willingham as way of an introduction. She invited me to do some demos at the event, so on April 2, 2012 I packed up a few racks of spray paint, a stack of stencils and some things to paint on and headed out to the University Area Community Center, not quite knowing what to expect.

Chuck Stephens in 2012

Chuck at Tampa Bay Mini Maker Faire 2012

At this point in my life I wasn’t a very social person. I’d been a veteran of many non-profits and direct action projects, but they always seemed to collapse under the weight of huge egos, half measures and needless compromises. My recent non-profit forray was with a Tampa-based autism ‘charity’ that turned out to be a criminal scam. I was still trying to wash the stink of that fiasco off of myself. I was disillusioned about the whole ‘do-gooder’ thing and had retreated into a cocoon of my own projects and interests. The fact that the Faire was being produced by yet another non-profit gave me reason to pause, but I wasn’t going to join up- I just wanted to show my stuff, see what others had going on and maybe meet a few like minded people.

I got that last one in spades! What an amazing group of folks. I met musicians, roboticists, artists, 3D printer enthusiasts, inventors and a bunch of other creative, friendly folks. I was set up outside doing stencil demos and having a blast sharing my skills with anyone who was interested. I also had some of my hand made percussion instruments. I met three young people who were interested in my instruments. We chatted a bit and I was pretty impressed with their maturity, manners and positive attitudes. These kids were very different from the kids I usually encountered.

Joel of TDT in 2012

Joel Croteau, with FTC Team Duct Tape in 2012

Half way through the day, a storm kicked up with strong winds and imminent rain. I had stencils flying everywhere and I was panicking to get everything gathered up and secured. Out of nowhere these kids came out and helped me carry everything inside just ahead of the rain. They helped me get set up again at a table next to theirs. I was impressed with their helpfulness. I was even more impressed when I saw these kids in action.

They were there representing their FIRST robotics program, Team Duct Tape. They were professional and polite to everyone who stopped at their table. I was not used to seeing young people like this. I chatted them up and learned their names- Ryder, Joel and Marissa. I gave them some custom stenciled composition books for helping me beat the storm. At the end of the day they helped me load up my car, and we bid our good byes.

Little did I know that these kids would have an incredible impact on my life.

To be continued…


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Posted in DIY Festivals, Guest blog, Maker Festivals
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