Unleash the best version of yourself — a bobblehead, naturally — at a FabNewport Maker Party and film screening.

Rhode Island Monthly
August 2, 2016
Casey Nilsson

Steve Heath has worked in schools for two decades. And he’s never met a student who didn’t want to learn.

“If you followed a ten year old around in school — a traditional public school — you’d say ‘Really, is this the best we can do?’ ” Heath, executive director of the nonprofit, FabNewport, says. “School measures a really narrow window of what we’re capable of.”

That window blows open when kids are given a prompt, tools and some creative encouragement. A self-watering plant stand, a computer program that translates sign language to text, a light sensor to protect little dogs from lurking coyotes: These are just a few projects that were imagined, built and tweaked by youth makers at FabNewport’s 1,800-square-foot space in Newport’s north end.

The nonprofit, which launched in 2013 to bring coding, fabrication and computing to the community, provides free after-school programming for neighborhood children, as well as professional development for educators and summer camp for school-age kids. The organization has also established maker spaces at schools across Aquidneck Island.

On August 14, from 5 to 8:30 p.m., FabNewport hosts a fundraising Maker Party at Newport’s Casino Theatre on Freebody Street. That night, guests — young, old and technophobic — can create custom bobbleheads and artbots while enjoying food, wine and beer. The event also features a maker table, where FabNewport kids will create with an assortment of materials.

“It’ll be set up like it’s our lab,” says Heath. “We’ll have up to fifteen children just doing their thing — in the process of making. Anyone who comes can see them in action.”

The evening ends with a film screening of Most Likely to Succeed, followed by a Q-and-A with Jamestown-based producer, Ted Dintersmith. The documentary, which takes an in-depth look at education and curriculum reform in America, debuted at Sundance Film Festival in 2015.

While FabNewport often uses technology as a means to a creative end, Heath says the organization’s mission is to “liberate the maker intrinsic in all of us. We’re not just about technology. Employers want problem solving. By giving kids the opportunity to work with simple materials, we give them ways to explore problem solving. Those are transferable skills.”

Heath remembers a Met School student who came to FabNewport with an interest in fashion that blossomed into a passion for industrial design. The student has gone on to study at the Parsons School of Design in New York City, and his younger brother now spends his time at FabNewport mastering Python, a high-level programming language.

“We’re all about encouraging children,” Heath says. “We’re cultivating an agency within them so they feel empowered to act in the world on their own behalf. We can encourage them to believe in themselves.”