Aaaaaaand another Maker Faire is a wrap, and very successfully if I do say so myself. If you would like to see the pictures we took at Maker Faire this year, please click here.

The FYFFH booth all set up and awaiting the crowds.

The FYFFH booth all set up and awaiting the crowds.

The handwritten “Freak Flag Manifesto” poster, hanging on the post in the middle of the booth. We gave away a bunch of flyers with the printed version too.

Now for the wrap up. The booth was once again in the Craft section in the Expo Hall, which remains a good fit for the project. (I am so glad that there are still a few of us who are focused on providing art making experiences, not just tech skills or demos. I think it’s really important to keep the Faire STEAM not just STEM.) There was a big post in the middle of the booth space so we had to configure the booth a little differently than usual with the “photo booth”/sign and special materials in the center of the booth instead of on the side, but it still worked out fairly well. I hung the handwritten “Freak Flag Manifesto” poster on the post though and lots of people stopped and took pictures of it. I had plenty of fabulous freaky assistants (big freaky thank you’s to Keri, Cassandra, Maya, Lisa, Jamie, Molly, Anjanette, Heather, Steven, Eileen, Russell, Matthew, Susan and of course the Husband of Pure Awesomeness) and the Faire closed an hour earlier on Saturday night so I was not as exhausted as I have sometimes been in the past.

freaks making flags

Freaks making flags as freaky helpers Molly and Jamie look on.

Even with all those helpers though we still didn’t manage to take a picture of every flag made. I would guesstimate that a good 40-50% of the people who make flags don’t take a picture with us, whether because they actively choose not to or because they just get missed by one of us. And we still are lacking a parade marshall so there weren’t any parades again this year—although I did see a few flags out in the “wild” of the rest of the Faire during the couple times I managed to escape the booth.

Queen Freak and Little Freak

Queen Freak and Little Freak

We made fewer flags this year than last year (400ish instead of 500ish) but the booth still felt consistently busy all weekend (well, at least on Saturday and Sunday; Friday was pretty slow). Donations held relatively steady at about 42% of people donating the requested $4/flag (last year it was 44%). So we have a little bit less in the bank to buy craft supplies and other materials for next year, but fortunately we had a fair amount of craft supplies left over after this year so hopefully that will work out okay.

FYFFH won two awards this year!

FYFFH won two awards this year!

We had a bunch of repeat customers from prior Maker Faires, which is always a satisfying thing. A few people even told me that they’d enjoyed making flags so much the year(s) prior that the FYFFH booth was the one they headed to first to make sure they didn’t miss it. :)

Most exciting of all, though, FYFFH won two awards this year! An “Editor’s Choice” blue ribbon and a “Best in Class” red ribbon. And the people who gave them to me were very complimentary and appreciative of the project and its “Maker spirit”, which was so nice to hear. Sometimes I do feel insecure and wonder if anyone is noticing FYFFH and all the effort I put into it and the awards and kind words (along with the repeat customers and the donations) proves that yes, some people are.

Susan explains the process

Freaky helper Susan explains the process to eager listeners.

Overall I had a great time talking to people and explaining the project and why it was important to reclaim the word “freak”, even to the little kids who just wanted to play with the sequins and pens and pipe cleaners. Often people wanted to tell us stories about times they had been shamed or ostracized for being different—in my opinion, supportive, non-judgmental listening to those stories is itself one of the most healing and helpful parts of the FYFFH project.

For future reference, here is a version of the “patter” I used with people when explaining the project and afterwards when they were finished:

“Hi, are you ready to make something?” (or “would you like to make a flag?”) Or sometimes, “are you ready to make something or are you still at Looker Faire?”

Julia explaining the process to some new makers while Keri looks on.

Julia explaining the process to some new makers while Keri looks on.

“Sure!”

“Okay, let me explain a couple of things to you before I give you the flag and let you loose on the sparkly stuff. So do you see that all the flags have the same word on them? What’s that word?”

“Freak” (or “I don’t know”, and then I’d ask “can I tell you?”)

Julia and Anjanette

Julia and freaky helper Anjanette on Saturday at the booth.

“That’s right. What’s a freak?”

(Sometimes they’d say something like “someone who is different”, in which case I’d say “that’s right!” or they’d say “someone who’s scared of something—like freaking out” and then I’d comment “well, sort of. ‘Freaking out’ might also mean you’re just really excited about something, right?” But most often they’d say…)

“I don’t know.”

Freaks making flags

Freaks making flags

“That’s good! That means no one ever called you that before in a mean way. Because sometimes people use this word in a mean way, and we don’t like that. We want this word to be a compliment. So can I tell you what *I* think a freak is? A freak is someone who’s different. And guess what? We are all different! I’m not like you, you’re not like him, or her.

Freaky helper Stephen

Freaky helper Stephen and the Freak Flag Manifesto

“And that’s great! If we were all the same, it’d be pretty boring. So we are all a freak in some way, at some time, to someone. I also think a freak is someone who loves something a whole lot. Like when you look at me, can you tell what I love a lot? (Answer was usually “sparkles!” or sometimes “dressing up!”) Right! I am definitely an art freak, that’s why I do this project. The question is, what kind of freak are you? [POINT TO SIGN] See, we have a whole list of questions to help you think about it. But let me ask you some now. What do you love a lot? What is your favorite thing? When you’re not in school, what do you like to do?”

(Answer, with response and bonus high fives where appropriate.)

freaky helpers

The Friday crew: Maya, Keri, Cassandra and Julia

“Great, put that on your flag. You can draw it, or write it, or use any of the craft materials we have here to represent it. Or you can just play with the materials, that’s okay too. So listen, you can use anything on the tables, and anything from this extra stuff up here in the middle of the booth. But I have one important pro tip that you have to listen to. Are you ready? Okay it’s this: if you use glue, just use a little. ‘Dot dot, not a lot!’ Because if you use too much it won’t dry and then it’ll drip and things will fall off your flag or you’ll be walking around the rest of the Faire holding it in front of you and then you’ll be a sad freak. And nobody likes a sad freak. Got it?

Julia and Lisa

Julia and freaky helper Lisa on Sunday at the booth.

(Give them a blank flag.)

So when you’re done, come back and see me or my lovely assistant, and we’ll take your picture for our gallery. We’ve been doing this project for 5 years now and we have an awesome gallery of hundreds and hundreds of people with their flags, and now you get to be there too.”

Then when people were finished and ready to take their pictures…

Freak showing off her flag

Freak showing off her flag

“Hey, can I see? Wow! What a great flag! I love what you did. (Here I would try to comment and compliment them on at least one part of their flag, and if there was time ask some questions about what they put on it.) Are you ready for your closeup? Step into my photo booth. Great! Would you like a little card to remind you of where to go look for the picture? I’ll have the pics up in a few weeks, but in the meantime you can look at all the other great flags there. Because you know what? They’re all different. Just like we are. And they’re all awesome, just like we are. And if you had a great time and you’d like to make a donation to help us do this again next year, we would be really grateful. You can freak it forward and help us buy more glitter pom poms for next year!”

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Josh building the (Inner) Freak Show Booth at the SF Decompression event

Josh building the (Inner) Freak Show Booth at the SF Decompression event

Because we are gluttons for punishment (or at least for artistic attention), we brought the (Inner) Freak Show Booth and the Wheel of Participation to the San Francisco Burning Man Decompression “Heat the Street FaIRE” event. It was a long hard day full of a lot of physical labor at the beginning and end of it. We got up at 6 and then by 7:30 we loaded a U-haul with all the stuff to make the Pink Heart mini-camp plus the Wheel, Cornhole and Freak Booth bits of the Pink Heart Carnival. We got on the road by 9, got to Decom around 9:30ish, then spent the next 4 hours or so unloading the truck and putting together the wheel and the booth and the camp area. It was like a concentrated version of going to Burning Man, but with a bit less dust and more convenience. Luckily we had help with all the things, because Pink Hearters (and Burners) are awesome.

The Wheel of Participation and the (Inner) Freak Show Booth at SF Decompression

The Wheel of Participation and the (Inner) Freak Show Booth at SF Decompression

I have to say I was super gratified and pleased by having the booth and the wheel at Decom. Not only was it great to see them again (and relatively clean), but wow people really, really seemed to like what we’d created. They got played with all day and all night, and I often saw a line form of people waiting to get into the booth (the wheel occasionally had a line too). People did definitely interact with the booth and with other people who were in the booth at the same time, which was cool. I saw people taking lots of pictures of the outside and the inside of the booth, and I also saw people taking (and waving) freak flags, although sadly even though I brought the bin full of flag-decorating supplies, no one seemed all that motivated to go decorate their flags (and that was fine). It felt like a lot more people saw both big carnival pieces, and got to interact with them, than had seen them at the burn (though I did have several people tell me that they’d seen the Freak booth at Burning Man and enjoyed it, which also made me happy). I really felt like what we did made a splash there at Decom…our booth and wheel were the most colorful and interactive things in the park, at least. (There were definitely other cool things in the park…but I think everyone who came in the park at least saw the Carnival stuff even if they didn’t come look at/play with it.) That made me feel validated as an artist, which was really what I wanted.

I had so much fun just hanging around camp and around the carnival pieces, it was hard to leave. I played “barker” for the Wheel of Participation for an hour or so and had wonderful interactions with both kids and grownups. I encouraged people to tell jokes, give compliments, have conversations with strangers, escort others to their destinations, pick up trash, hug heart-to-heart, tell someone “I love you” and shout out something they loved. I gave away Pink Heart prizes (buttons and heart carabiners). I talked to people in the Freak Booth and even got a few people to help me put up lights or do other things to/for the booth.

It was great to be around the Burner vibe one more time, and to bring the Pink Heart vibe to the hungry masses. I think the wheel and the booth had a great reception and I was really proud of what we had created. It was a great way to close out the Burning Man season.

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Pink Freak at Pink Heart with Freak Flags

Pink Freak at Pink Heart with Freak Flags

There were two separate FYFFH-related things going on at Burning Man this year. First, there was the now-familiar flag-making workshop, which was held again this year at Pink Heart. With the able assistance of one of my favorite freak volunteers, Emily (aka Zip, aka my mom!), we explained the project, handed out blank flags, newspapers and sharpies and took pictures of people when they were finished. Once we got the first few people started, we had a steady stream of people coming up and asking for flags, so I didn’t even really have to drum up any participation. That being said, it was a relatively quiet morning and I only had a couple of hours to do the flag-making before we had to switch gears in camp to get ready for the Pink Ride and Halcyon’s talk, so there weren’t a ton of people that got to participate this year, but there were definitely some quality interactions and art created.

Three generations of freaks showing off their awesome flags

Three generations of freaks showing off their awesome flags

My favorite moments: getting to meet four women from three generations of a family who all had a great time making flags together; meeting a lovely young man who made a flag with a cute drawing of a giraffe and a unicorn touching tongues on it in anticipation of flying it in front of his tent to welcome his sweetie who was arriving later that day (and he brought her back around later so we could meet her!); and meeting the sparkly burgin to whom I’d sold our extra ticket and her parents, also burgins (they all happily made flags). Since it wasn’t too crowded or crazy I got the chance to spend a little time with each person before I took their pictures, and ask them to explain their flags to me (e.g. answer “what kind of freak are you?”). That was really fun and interesting, especially because we were in the kind of environment that really encourages connection and shared meaning. Pictures of freaks and their flags are finally up in the FYFFH Gallery—click here to see them.

Supernova and the (Inner) Freak Show Booth at Burning Man 2015

Supernova and the (Inner) Freak Show Booth at Burning Man 2015

The second FYFFH-related thing that happened at Burning Man this year was an art installation: the (Inner) Freak Show booth. It was the central piece of a multi-piece Pink Heart Carnival that also included an 8 foot tall spinning “Wheel of Participation”, a cornhole toss, pink fuzzy Tetherballz, and giant pink fuzzy Heart Dice. The (Inner) Freak Show booth was my design and I did a lot of the work on it, but I couldn’t have done it without the expert assistance of Josh, the Husband of Pure Awesomeness, who was the primary carpenter, and freaky friends Jamie (who created the bone circus letters which I then traced), Rhoda (who did the lettering on the outside of the booth), and Emily, who consulted with me on the decoration of the interior and spent hours installing that interior decoration on playa in its final form.

The (Inner) Freak Show booth at sunrise, Burning Man 2015

The (Inner) Freak Show booth at sunrise, Burning Man 2015

The booth was a 12 foot high, 5 foot wide and 5 foot deep structure with a wood frame and plywood walls. The walls went up 8 feet, and above that was a raw wood frame around a 4 foot high and 5 foot wide cube of space. In the center of that cube of space was hung an awesome heart sculpture that Zip made from metal screening covered with silver mylar and punctured by approximately 2000 hot pink cable ties, each of which was 18” long so that the heart looked like it was pouring love out in every direction. Then hung from the bottom of the heart there was a disco ball (because Carnival of Mirrors and because Josh thought it looked cool). At night the heart was lit by two pink spots clipped to the tops of the walls.

Side view of the (Inner) Freak Show Booth, Burning Man 2015

Side view of the (Inner) Freak Show Booth, Burning Man 2015

On the outside of the booth, you could see three walls painted like giant circus posters in pink, fuschia, white and black, with sayings like “prepare to be amazed”, “weirdest in the world”, “you won’t believe your eyes” and so on. The front of the booth was an entryway hung with black curtains and framed by narrow wooden sides and top painted with pink and black stripes. There was also a painted banner reading “FREAK SHOW” above the door, and a big wooden cut out pink heart with a mirrored star in the middle that floated above the banner between the words “freak” and “show”. For extra freaky decoration, I also staked one of the rebar freak flags from the 2012 installation outside at the corner of the booth.

Inside the (Inner) Freak Show Booth (back wall)

Inside the (Inner) Freak Show Booth (back wall)

That’s what it looked like from the outside. What you found when you entered the booth was something different. The inside walls were painted black. Right in front of you as you walked in (on the back wall) there was a big framed square mirror that said “WHAT KIND OF FREAK ARE YOU?” in silver letters around the frame, and that big mirror was surrounded by several dozen square and round mirrors hung all around it up and down the wall. The right and left sides of the booth each had 3 foot-high strips of silver reflective mylar stapled horizontally one above the other, with several inches of space in between. In the spaces in between the mirrors there were inspirational sayings in silver lettering. On the left of the booth it said “FREAKS CAN CHANGE THE WORLD/JUST BY BEING OURSELVES”, and on the right side of the booth it said “FLY YOUR FREAK FLAG HIGH/WE GOTTA BE FREAKY TOGETHER”. On the back wall it said all kinds of things, like “LOOK HOW BEAUTIFUL YOU ARE”, “BE YOUR WHOLE SELF”, “YOU ARE AMAZING”, “LET YOUR LIGHT SHINE”, “WHO ARE YOU REALLY?”, “BRING YOUR INSIDE OUTSIDE”, “RECLAIM YOUR SHAME”, “NO JUDGEMENT, ONLY LOVE”, “SPEAK YOUR FREAK”, “IMAGINE YOURSELF BIG” and more.

The "What Kind of Freak Are YOU" journal inside the (Inner) Freak Show Booth at Burning Man 2015

The “What Kind of Freak Are YOU” journal inside the (Inner) Freak Show Booth at Burning Man 2015

There were long strands of little circular mirrors hung in the corners of the booth, and silver holographic spirals stapled to the top and middle support beams that ran horizontally around the inside. Stapled to the right and left sides of the booth were an explanation of the project and a list of “what kind of freak are you” questions, respectively. Attached to the right wall with a white ribbon was a notebook and a pink sharpie pen. The notebook had pink and fuschia hearts on the cover and said in black carnival-ish font “WHAT KIND OF FREAK ARE YOU?” and visitors to the booth put all kinds of answers in there, ranging from silly (“goddamn enviro liberal fern-feelin’, tree-huggin’, yogurt-suckin’, granola-eatin’ FREAK”) to serious (“I’m obsessed with food. Any kind. A lot. All the time”).

Inside the (Inner) Freak Show Booth, side view, under pink light at night

Inside the (Inner) Freak Show Booth, side view, under pink light at night

Also inside the booth was a six-inch high pink wooden platform with a big fuschia heart painted on top, so that you could step up and “be the freak show”. In the corner next to the door there was a pink and black metal vase filled with blank freak flags that people were encouraged to take and decorate if they wanted with pens that were in a pink bin over by the Pink Heart water bar across the Esplanade.

Zip and her heart sculpture that was displayed at the top of the (Inner) Freak Show Booth at Burning Man 2015

Zip and her heart sculpture that was displayed at the top of the (Inner) Freak Show Booth at Burning Man 2015

Before we got to playa, I was nervous about how the (Inner) Freak Show booth would be received, and whether or not people would interact with it or like it. Turned out that lots of people did go inside, singly and in bunches, and many seemed to enjoy it. They wrote in the book, they took flags, and they talked to me about it when I was there fixing and cleaning and restocking it. It was a huge amount of effort and work to create it, get it there and get it set up (along with the rest of the Carnival), but it was gratifying and worth it to know that so many people did interact with and appreciate it.

(You can see an album of pictures of the booth on the FYFFH Facebook page by clicking here.)

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Freaks making flags at Maker Faire 2015

Freaks making flags at Maker Faire 2015

(This is being posted way after the event but what the heck, better late than never.) FYFFH had a great time again at Maker Faire this year, with a nice big booth and great placement right in the middle of the Craft section in the Expo Hall, with other awesome crafty neighbors. Set up and break down went very smoothly because we finally have this Maker Faire booth thing down, though of course I couldn’t have done it without the amazing support of my freaky volunteers. Josh (aka Husband of Pure Awesomeness) helped me set up on Thursday and break down on Sunday, Maya helped me out on Friday (this year Maker Faire decided to have a mandatory extra half day on Friday for the school and business folks who can’t do weekends), Molly helped me out on Saturday and Sunday, Cory helped me out on Saturday, and Pat was his usual freaky star volunteer self on Sunday (complete with winged and horned demon makeup and costume). Love you freaky people!

Julia and Maya at the FYFFH booth at Maker Faire 2015

Julia and Maya at the FYFFH booth at Maker Faire 2015

We had a 10’ x 30’ booth again and we set it up similar to the previous year, with the materials, “photo booth” and easel on the right hand corner and the 4 tables and accompanying chairs set up perpendicular to the back of the booth next to that. There were fence panels between me and both neighbors and along the back of the booth, which like last time we decorated with left-behind freak flags from years previous and instructional posters, and then the sign for the booth was along the right hand side (towards the front so it could still serve as a photo backdrop). We had to put colorful posterboard on the easel for people to write their answers to the “What Kind of Freak Are You?” question, because the dry erase board couldn’t be erased, but it worked well. Traffic seemed to flow pretty well, and the tables were often full, so I would certainly request this size booth again next year if I can.

Freak Assistant Cory at the FYFFH booth at Maker Faire 2015

Freak Assistant Cory at the FYFFH booth at Maker Faire 2015

Overall we made about 540 flags with people over the course of three days. We upped the amount of the donation per flag to $4/flag, and though there were many generous people who gave more than the $4 (many gave us a $5 bill and didn’t want change), there were also a lot of people who didn’t donate at all—especially on Friday, where my traffic was largely school groups. After the math was done it worked out to be slightly fewer than half the people who donated. We still pretty much broke even given the higher donation amount, but I would like to see the percentage of people donating go up over 50% next time.

FYFFH didn’t get any awards or press this year, but once again we got visited by some happy repeat customers from previous years, which was really gratifying. One young woman even brought back her flag from the year before, which she’d kept decorating after Maker Faire, just to show me. (Yes, it was awesome.)

Once again, some people really “got” the project, and created beautiful personalized expressions of their unique freaky bits, and some people just had fun playing with the craft supplies, but everyone who came by and made flags with us seemed to have a great time, so it was a win all around. Please take a look at the newly updated Freak Flag Gallery to see examples of the awesome flags that were created!

Other notes mostly just for me to look at for next year (feel free to skip this part and go straight to the pretty pictures):

  • We did have a videographer come on Sunday to shoot footage for a promo video, and I can’t wait to see how that video comes out.
  • Again, a minimum of me + one other volunteer seemed to work all right, but it would have been even better to have 3 people on shift/in the booth at any given time. Overlapping shifts would allow for volunteers (and me!) to much more easily get out of the booth from time to time for breaks and food and sightseeing.
  • Friday was super slow. We probably had only about 40 or 50 people make flags. A lot of school groups were zooming through or fractured in their attention and didn’t want to take the time to stop and do an elaborate craft. If this becomes an optional day, I might want to say “no thanks”.
  • Must look into some floor padding, at least for the front of the booth. My feet hurt really badly by the end of a 10+ hour day of standing on concrete.
  • Popular materials this year were the sparkly mesh tubing and feathers, though all the usual materials (sequins, rhinestones, alphabet beads, pipe cleaners, pom-poms, buttons, etc) also got a lot of love.
  • Tried a slightly different kind of glue this year and liked it: Aleene’s Fast Grab Quick Try Tacky Glue (the kind I’ve been buying in the past is Aleene’s Quick Dry Tack Glue).
  • It always surprises me that despite being slammed with folks making flags all day and all weekend long, we get very little pre- or post-event recognition (at least that I’ve seen) from social or traditional media. Next year I might want to focus a little more on press releases and other kinds of marketing ahead of time, and encouraging more social media presence during the Faire. Maybe put up a sign with suggested hashtags people can use (e.g. #fyffh and #freakflags) and/or also try to post some of the good flag pics on Twitter and Instagram throughout the day. (This would be easier with more volunteers in the booth…)
  • I added a few bits to the patter this year. Mainly I found myself talking to a lot of girls about “mean girls”, and how teaching people about the power of being yourself and flying your freak flag high was my way of stamping out mean girls. That seemed to go over well with most audiences.
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JD-FreakFlagsatPinkHeart-BM2014I was excited to once again do the Fly Your Freak Flag High Workshop at Burning Man this year, at my new camp: Pink Heart (which was the same place I guest-workshopped back in 2013). On Friday morning, I was still collecting up all my stuff and getting ready when someone came and told me that there were already people out front asking when the workshop was starting (that was actually cool…I liked knowing that people had come on purpose to do this with me, rather than just stumbling upon it.)

Like I had done at Pink Heart the previous year, I went casual and made it a sort of rolling art activity rather than a formal workshop. I didn’t really have any helpers (though I could have shanghaied some campmates if I had really needed them). I started by walking around in the Pink Lounge asking people if they’d like to come do an art activity with me, and when I collected enough people I stood them in a circle and explained the project and handed out flags and newspapers and the bags of sharpies and told people to go for it. As the first batch sat around on the floor and colored their flags, I stood out in front of camp with a handful of flags and invited more people to come join us. (“Hi beautiful burner! Want to come make a freak flag with us?”) Then I would explain what we were doing, give them a flag, and send them to find a spot on the floor somewhere.

FYFFH-PH-BM2014I alternated between explaining the project and walking around checking on people and eventually, once people finished, I took pictures of each finished flag and its maker. I had a steady stream of people both coming in wanting to start and finishing up wanting to take a picture and go, so it got a bit hectic, but never unmanageable. My estimate is that over the course of nearly three hours, we made about 100 flags, and I got pictures of most of them. It was still blowing a lot of dust out on the playa so some of the pictures came out dustier or clearer than others, but fortunately my camera did not seem to mind the dust.

Although I didn’t get a chance to encourage people to interact with each other and share their freaky bits like I usually do, and I was running around so I wasn’t able to keep a close eye on people who were coloring, I am pretty sure that people did interact with others doing the project and actually get to know other people while doing the flags. (And if that’s true, that’s awesome.) I did get to interact with people when they came to get their picture taken, and I always asked them about their flag and why they’d drawn what they did and what the various things on their flags meant to them. I asked people to tell me a story about something on their flag, and many people did. So at least I hope I got them thinking about the project a little more, even if I didn’t structurally encourage it in more traditional workshop fashion. Many people thanked me and gave me little gifts, and overall it was another successful year!

[If you would like to see pictures of all the freaks flying their flags at Burning Man: Caravansary, click here.]

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