Erik Katz is leading a march of the makers in San Francisco.
In Huck 44, we get deep into Tommy's Guerrero's past, present and future - much of which goes down in his home city of San Francisco. The Bay Area is in his blood. But what is it about the city of big tech and tiny microclimates that makes it such a hot bed of creativity and free thought? In our Bay Area Blood web series we explore that question, going straight to the beating heart of SF, led by the people who love and know her best.
In A Hologram for the King, San Franciscan writer Dave Eggers wrote, “the greatest use of a human was to be useful. Not to consume, not to watch, but to do something for someone else that improved their life.” That same year he shared his vision for a new real-world project – the Mid-Market Maker’s Mart. Modelled on the organic food fair, the concept would provide a shared space where craftsfolk could run workshops and sell their wares. There was just one hitch. As Eggers explained to the FT: “The only thing that doesn’t make sense is why I’m involved at all.”
Luckily, his words inspired people who did make sense (as well as more tangible things) like thirty-three-year-old Erik Katz, who was already embedded in the city’s pioneering Maker Faire scene, a subculture of independent metalworkers, woodcarvers and state-of-the-art crafters who fuse their techniques with 3D printing, robotics and electronics modifications at ad-hoc gatherings known as hack-a-thons. Spurred on, in 2012, the San Franciscan established Maker Mart, a temporary hacker-space that mirrored Eggers’ vision. As ambassador for a free-thinking generation, Erik advocates old-school craftsmanship and technological innovation and is currently trying to procure funding for a permanent space for SF’s hands-on innovators. With Silicon Valley forever spawning hypotheses around the corner in Santa Clara Valley, it could prove to be Mecca for the brave new world.
I started making with a motorised bike business, building a Cali beach cruiser with a small gas motor, it looked cool like a Harley but was unique to San Francisco. I sold it to the maker movement and that made me a passionate advocate, because I realised there was a lot of unknown knowledge and I wanted to share it. I’ve always liked taking things apart and luckily we’re at a point of constructivism, where community workshops are growing.
In that vein, Wood Thumb is a company I really like – they make wooden ties which is very niche but they are expanding their product and allowing other makers to rent office space in downtown SF. The best makers are doing something cool and unique, inspiring other makers to be cool and unique.
The city has a long history of trendsetting and supporting independence. That first started with the Gold Rush when people set out to create their own destiny. This has become a theme; it’s a DIY city that’s chic, unique and cutting-edge.
What really excites me is the time, place and transformation with computers. A digital revolution is taking place for people making physical products and it’s spawning a renaissance in making and inventing. What do we need to keep moving forward? One, people need access to tools in community workspaces. Two, they need to learn digital fabrication. Three, the internet needs to be a tool where they can exercise their ability to sell products. Four, they need crowdfunding to produce a product. These are the forces driving the maker movement – share information, connect online virtually and have real-time events.
With that in mind, I hope Maker Mart can help bridge the gap between science and art. They go hand in hand – the best example of that is Leonardo Da Vinci, but we don’t celebrate that type of work much today. Engineers are the most creative artists, because that’s what good industrial process needs, and we aren’t acknowledging that. Great companies are fuelled by engineers so we need top tech companies to support artists! Maker Mart is for the community; it creates a space for people to drive their own business, serves the public and the tech community, which although is interesting, is often completely closed off. Most innovation is inspired outside the office but everything is private, and less open, which drives out culture – so you need places where people congregate and create ideas. The community can’t become insular.
Check out Maker Mart.
Our Bay Area Blood web series expands on a feature that originally appeared in Huck 44 – The Tommy Guerrero issue. Grab a copy of the mag for more on Tommy G, San Francisco and culture-shapers of all kinds.