Backstage at The Utah Arts Festival 2018: At the Art and Technology venue, everyone becomes a maker

The objective at Make Salt Lake is simple. Even if there are no detailed plans to make something, there is no reason to be dissuaded from a project. For example, Make Salt Lake’s Beth Sallay, the coordinator for the Art and Technology venue at the Utah Arts Festival, is not a musician but she wanted to build a programmable music box or glockenspiel, as shown at “The first version was awful,” she says, “but version 2.0 works, and makes music.” Most of what Make Salt Lake does, especially for the festival’s hands-on projects, arises from a perfectly humble but elegant process of building a piece, figuring out the next step, and continue from there. Sure, the initial design might be clunky, awkward and less than ideal but one learns how to improve upon it for the next version.

For the festival, Sallay will have six units of the programmable glockenspiel on hand to demonstrate. The supplies for one unit cost roughly $18 with parts purchased from home improvement stores and thrift shops (where old toy xylophones are available for about $3) and small gears and other parts. There also will be plenty of other projects for demonstration as well as the storehouse of supplies where kids and other festivalgoers will make and take home art pieces including Brush Bots, light sabers, cyanotype prints and customized art tiles. “We’ll have materials for more than 9,000 projects and probably more,” she says.

Photo Credit: The Utah Review.

Volunteers at Make Salt Lake as well as those assigned by festival organizers help kids, as young as four or five, and tech-adverse adults learn to make things they believe they could not accomplish. “Last year, we even picked up a few of the festival volunteers as sustaining members of Make Salt Lake,” Sallay adds. For $50 per month, members can use the various shops and services at Make Salt Lake, which operates out of a warehouse at the Utah Arts Alliance building just west of downtown. These include a fully equipped wood tool shop with lathes, drills, saws and other devices. Members can be trained by master carpenters, who can assist them on proper uses of the machinery. The metal shop is equipped to gain experience for MIM (metal injection molding) certification.

Volunteers also have spent months perfecting several interactive demonstration pieces and a ‘brag table’ display of projects Make Salt Lake members have developed. One brag piece is a large simple working clock with wood and base filled with patterns of wine corks, which is a pleasantly inexpensive conversation piece. There is a Rube Goldberg contraption for ball bearing runs, which is fashioned from upcycled equipment and materials.

Photo Credit: The Utah Review.

The make-and-take objects are effective examples of simple technology that once mastered can be leveraged for more complex projects. And, the material cost per object ranges from 50 cents to less than $3 (at no additional cost to participants).The Brush Bots are tiny skittering robots with the simplest working parts that are barely more than a toothbrush head, motor and battery. Make Salt Lake purchases a box of 1,000 toothbrushes from a local janitorial supply source for a total of just a little more than $49, which works out to less than five cents apiece. Participants can select their own cutouts from an array of animal shapes including dragon, turtle, cats, cow, scorpion and fly. They will have at least 1,000 batteries and 1,000 motors on hand.

The Brush Bots are durable, even accounting for their size and simple construction. Those from 2017 still work this year. Kids can assemble these in a matter of a few minutes. As a comparison, a brush bot kit at a bookstore costs $12.

Photo Credit: The Utah Review.

Also available will be cyanotype printing, which actually represents a photographic print process technology discovered in the mid-19th century and was widely used well into the 20th century for reproducing notes and architectural diagrams such as those in blueprints. Many contemporary artists have adapted the fairly inexpensive process which generates a cyan-blue print using two chemicals: ammonium iron (III) citrate and potassium ferricyanide. Participants will be able to make and take home a print on paper that has been coated and exposed to the sun. The biggest expense is the paper.

The miniature light sabers are back for a fourth year with bright nighttime color effects. A wad of cotton is added in the pipe to enhance the lighting effect. The crew built battery holders and kids will add the battery, select the color of the LED crystal, decorate them and take them home. It’s a quick project that can be accomplished in minutes while offering a basic lesson in circuitry and how LEDs work. Most kids can assemble the light sabers in 3 minutes or less.

Art tile supplies along with Sharpies and rubbing alcohol will be provided so that festival visitors can make their own designs. Or, they can use a draw bot to select an image design. There also is a harmonograph, the older version of the Hasbro Spirograph toy introduced during the mid-1960s. However unlike the toy, Beck’s harmonograph uses 7.5-pound pendulum weights to produce geometric drawings of mathematical roulette circles and curves, using a roller-ball pen that creates the image on paper.

Photo Credit: The Utah Review.

Make Salt Lake also has continued to tweak a project introduced last year by Brad Midgley, a low-cost portable air quality sensor that connect to WiFi. The devices, built from parts with a total cost about $30, are a low-cost option in how air quality data is collected, analyzed and utilized for policy purposes.

The prototype introduced last year comprised four affordable elements: particulate sensor ($15), processor ($3), five-volt AC adapter ($5) and casing ($1). It worked well enough that The University of Utah has encouraged the organization to continuing developing it. Data collected from the sensor could be downloaded into an aggregated database, which guides scientists and air quality officials on gathering better readings on constantly occurring changes in particulate levels in the air and how other factors, such as weather, trigger localized effects.

Midgley and others have tweaked the prototype as an improved data-gathering tool. They have kept the particulate sensor (still $15), adapter and casing, swapped out the processor for a high-end component ($8) and a component for temperature and relative humidity ($1).

Photo Credit: Brad Midgley.

As Midgley has explained in presentations, the implications of having these sensors will raise awareness but also help individuals correlate and understand the context of the data they gather about air quality. The uses and questions become diverse, such as deciding whether or not to drive on days when the winter inversion affects air quality or adding another piece of data monitoring to those who use their mobile devices to track health metrics. Once data are gathered and aggregated into a central database such as one maintained by The University of Utah, objective measures and reports give more confidence to the specific reasons on a given day behind the concerns about the health impact of air quality.

There will be protoype sensors available at the festival, which includes a display indicating if the particulate levels in the air are below or above the threshold measurement considered safe for breathing. Given the limited number of sensors, Midgley says the staff will build an email list of interested individuals and Make Salt Lake will send detailed information about how to obtain the parts for the sensors, which can be easily assembled. The parts for sensors are available through online sources.

Photo Credit: The Utah Review.

Besides the extensive production operations, the venue has many interactive activities that cover a range of technological sophistication. One of the simplest examples yet and one that kids continue to enjoy is a pinball table that can be easily configured according to one’s preferences, which Sallay designed. She adds, for example, character heads taken from inexpensive toys purchased at discount stores and Deseret Industries outlets.

Photo Credit: The Utah Review.

The Artcade, an artificially intelligent painter also returns. It works like a photo booth in which participants can generate a unique painting image in 30 seconds. The device uses a deep learning algorithm called Neural Style that incorporates a large data set of classic images and styles and which has drastically reduced the processing time from previously one week to just 30 seconds. This year, participants will be able to get a print of their image.

On Friday, there will be a coding workshop for kids at the venue.

Spy Hop Productions, one of the nation’s most respected youth media organizations, will offer two days of workshops (June 21 and 22, 2 p.m., 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.) on beatmaking with Ableton Live software tools. There also will be a beatmaking version of the classic Dance Dance Revolution game and an interactive multimedia table. Spy Hop also will hand out temporary tattoos drawn created by Jon Chatelain from Yellow Rose Tattoo.

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