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Freaks making flags at Pink Heart Camp, Burning Man 2017.

Freaks making flags at Pink Heart Camp, Burning Man 2017.

This year at Burning Man I once again scheduled a few hours of freak flag making fun at Pink Heart Camp, but this time it was earlier in the week (Tuesday instead of Thursday). So bright and early on Tuesday morning I got my self and supplies up to the Pink Heart frontage, where one of my favorite art flunkies (aka my mom Emily) and I laid out some supplies and blank flags on one of the furry pink “mushroom” chairs in a shady part of the pink lounge. There were already people hanging around interested in the flag making, so I gathered up a group of people and explained the project and then sent the first batch off to color. People kept wandering in to the frontage and wanting to do the project so I found myself doing the same thing I do at Maker Faire, which is to grab people as they come in and make a group to which I explain the project all at once. After explaining the project concept and handing out blank flags I would remind them to use newspaper under their flag, encourage them to talk to each other while they were coloring, and tell them to come see me afterwards for pictures, and then let them go off wherever they chose in the frontage. Emily was also really helpful in explaining the project and encouraging people to make flags, and in helping me clean up all the newspapers and sharpies that got left about. Yay for art flunkies!

Freaks making flags at Pink Heart Camp at Burning Man 2017.

Freaks making flags at Pink Heart Camp at Burning Man 2017.

For the last hour or two of the workshop there were clumps of people coloring all over frontage, which made me really happy. I believe we went through almost a hundred flags, which is significantly more than in past years. I’m not sure what made the project so attractive this year other than mere serendipity and timing (10am-1pm on a Tuesday seems to be a good time for people to come hang out and make art) but I was happy to see that everything worked out so well and that I had been able to touch so many people with the FYFFH project this year. I met some wonderful people and had a lot of fun talking to people about their flags (I asked each person to tell me a story about or explain something they’d put on their flag), and sometimes the timing worked out so that those stories could be told in a group setting, which I think was a great innovation. One of the important points of doing this project is not only to see and appreciate our own freaky bits, but those of others as well, so showing other people our flags and talking about our own freaky bits in a non-judgmental, supportive way with other burners (who are already mostly operating in a spirit of radical openness and appreciation) was really great. I also encouraged people to talk to each other while they were coloring, and to introduce their freaky bits to each other as a way to connect and to reclaim the word “freak” as a compliment (e.g. “hey, that’s really freaky!” or “you are such an interesting freak” or “hey I’m that kind of freak too!”)

Freaks with their flags at Pink Heart Camp, Burning Man 2017.

Freaks with their flags at Pink Heart Camp, Burning Man 2017.

The only hard part about this year’s FYFFH workshop was taking pictures, because the place where I was taking pictures was in the direct sunlight and it was HOT, especially early on before the shade spread to cover the whole frontage. The direct super hot sunlight not only made it difficult to see the camera screen (I just pointed my phone in the right general direction and hoped for the best), but I actually got a little woozy and had to drink a ton of water and be vigilant about staying in the shade at all other times. I’m not positive I got all the pics I tried to take (because I couldn’t even tell if the camera app was on), but those I did manage to take turned out pretty well, if I do say so myself. I didn’t pass out any moo cards or flyers, but I told people that if they could remember the instruction to “fly your freak flag high” they could find the web site and see their pics later. (Of course, it took me wayyyy longer than I thought it would to get the pics up, so I hope people aren’t mad. Sorry, fellow freaks!)

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Looking for the pictures from this event? Check the Gallery by clicking here.

Anjanette and Julia in the park at Figment Oakland, waiting for freaks to come make flags.

Anjanette and Julia in the park at Figment Oakland, waiting for freaks to come make flags.

Just a few weeks after Maker Faire was over, I brought the FYFFH workshop to a new event called “Figment”, in Oakland. This was a family-friendly, interactive, art-in-the-park day that the organizers described thusly: “FIGMENT Oakland is a free, outdoor interactive art event that brings together the community and inspires all ages in the creation and celebration of art and a culture where everything is possible. Our focus is to bring out kids and adults alike to come out and play and experience art on a participatory level.”

Freaks making flags at Figment Oakland, June 2017

Freaks making flags at Figment Oakland, June 2017

I had a great time at the event and I think FYFFH was very successful there. I think we wound up making at least 60 or 70 flags with people (I forgot to count). It was a beautiful day filled with beautiful people peacefully enjoying all kinds of interactive art experiences, in a park, together. The weather was great, the crowd was happy, and I got a lot of appreciation for the ideas behind the FYFFH project (which always feels good). It was pretty easy and straightforward to set it up. I brought our rectangular and round fold up tables, some plastic tablecloths and about ten chairs, and I also had the little fold up table to hold materials, my easel with the FYFFH Manifesto on one side and posterboard on the other for people to draw on, and a couple boxes of flags (I already had a bunch of leftover flags from Maker Faire so I didn’t have to make any new ones). Anjanette came and helped me out as my art flunky for the day, which made everything much more fun and easy, and since it was a Leave No Trace type of event in a park, I didn’t bring much in the way of materials—just sharpies and some ribbon—so it wasn’t even really all that costly to me. (Figment was a “no commerce” zone, which meant I couldn’t ask for donations, so I needed to make it pretty cheap.) It was also pretty easy to clean up.

Julia explaining the FYFFH project to people in the park at Figment Oakland, June 2017.

Julia explaining the FYFFH project to people in the park at Figment Oakland, June 2017.

Tex Allen (a Burner acquaintance, previously of “Why The Nose” and now doing a “Hugs Across America” project) came and hung out in our space and wound up shooting some fun video of people making flags and posting that on social media, which you can see by clicking here. There was an event photographer who posted some wonderful pictures from the day on Flickr too, which you can see by clicking here.

Overall it was a great event in a lovely place with a wonderful community and I hope I will be able to do it again next year!

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This year's FYFFH booth all set up and ready to go!

This year’s FYFFH booth all set up and ready to go!

[Looking for the pictures from this event? Check the Gallery by clicking here]

So this year’s Maker Faire overall went very smoothly. We had the same size booth in exactly the same location as last year, in the Expo Hall in the “Craft” area, so set up was a breeze. I caravaned down to San Mateo on Friday morning with enthusiastic Freaky Assistants Michelle Martinez and Nik Patrascu, and we got on site and set up in plenty of time with no hassles or rush (yay!) The afternoon was relatively slow (just as Fridays have been in the past), but it allowed me to get back into the flow and get the patter down in preparation for the busier days ahead. I think of it now as my “loss leader”/”practice” day. (And on that note, my patter was pretty much the same as last year, no real changes to record there.)

Freaky Assistants Nik and Michelle take advantage of the slow pace of Friday to make their own freak flags.

Freaky Assistants Nik and Michelle take advantage of the slow pace of Friday to make their own freak flags.

Saturday morning Freaky Assistant Nik and I got the show rolling, and before it got too busy I got a nice visit from and interview with a couple guys from Twitch.tv, who were doing a livestream of the Faire. Here’s a link to that bit (we are at 40:36). We were joined later that morning by the eternally sunshiny Freaky Assistant Molly Hirschfield, who tagged out with Nik and stayed all the way through the end of that long flag-making day. As it turned out, we never got super duper slammed (though there were certainly times we were full) so everything worked out ok. In the middle of the afternoon we got a boost from extra-kind Freaky Assistant Diane Osborne, who was volunteering other places in the Faire but showed up to help so I got a chance to actually go out and look around/rest for about an hour. Yay! We only wound up making 114 flags on Saturday but a much higher percentage of people donated when they did make flags (about 68% as opposed to last year’s 48%).

Freaky assistant Molly and Queen Freak Julia

Freaky assistant Molly and Queen Freak Julia

Sunday morning I had help from the indomitable Freaky Assistant Rina Weisman, and in the afternoon I had help from the always upbeat Freaky Assistant Cassandra Chattan and her daughter Catalunya. Flag-making that day went great, although interestingly enough again this year we were busier on Sunday than on Saturday and we made slightly more flags (143), though fewer overall than on Sunday the year before. At some point in the later part of the day I had a visit from an older man who stopped to read my manifesto. I did the usual “hi, if you like that you can take a copy home” thing and he said sure, he liked it. Then he introduced himself as Dale Dougherty, the founder of Make and Maker Faire. He told me that he really appreciated what I was doing and that he felt like it was “in the spirit of Maker Faire”. I thanked him and told him that I really felt it was important to keep the “A” in “STEAM”. It was really good to be appreciated from that angle! At the very end of Sunday I was also visited by a couple of educators who gave me a red “educator’s choice” ribbon because they too appreciated what I was doing at the booth, especially with what I was providing and explaining to kids. So that was very affirming as well.

Freaky Assistant Rina

Freaky Assistant Rina

I definitely made fewer flags overall with people this year (307 flags over 3 days, with 50 the first day, 114 on Saturday and 143 on Sunday) and I think there might have been a few different reasons for that. First of all, since it was my 6th year doing pretty much the same thing there (half of Maker Faire’s life!), there may have finally been some saturation with this project, where people who’ve done it before don’t particularly feel the need to do it again. (Though that being said, I had quite a few repeat participants this year, and more than a handful of folks who told me that their kid had done this before and wanted to come do it again this year first/most of all, and that made me feel good too.)

Freaky Assistant Cassandra

Freaky Assistant Cassandra

Second of all, it actually felt less crowded in the Expo Hall this year (not sure what the actual attendance was). It’s possible that there was lower attendance at the Faire in general, or maybe there was less interest of those attending in the Craft section, and/or maybe the people who came wanted a different kind of experience than what I was providing. Third of all, and I think most important: I think there has been an overall shift in Maker Faire towards a more commercial, “pay to play” mentality. I think people took a look at my “Suggested Donation: $4/flag” sign and thought “I don’t want to pay $4 to do that” (even though they don’t have to pay at all and past statistics show that not even quite half the people who participate in the FYFFH project donate). Interestingly enough, though the number of flags made was down this year, the amount of money made in donations was approximately the same, which means that a higher percentage of people who made a flag also gave a donation. (This is especially impressive given that hardly anyone who comes on Friday donates…because the audience that day is mostly school groups and industry folks.)

FYFFH won an "Educator's Choice" Best in Class Ribbon this year!

FYFFH won an “Educator’s Choice” Best in Class Ribbon this year!

I think that next year I may want to change things up a little and add another kind of “freaky identity” project that people can make in addition to flags. Perhaps buttons, or paper flags, or headbands, or quilt squares, or something. I need to think on this further. Maybe next year is the year I really make a commitment to having parades at particular times too, so people can take their flags outside and wave them around.

Other notes/ideas for improvements for next year (these are mostly for me, you probably want to skip to the pretty pictures now):

Can you tell that the Queen Freak is a Sparkle Freak?

Can you tell that the Queen Freak is a Sparkle Freak?

  • Next year I want to create/have printed some big posters and/or another vinyl banner that show a bunch of freaks-with-flags pictures from previous years. I find it really inspirational and fun to look at the pics from the FYFFH Gallery on the website, so why not print out some of my favorites and let everyone else enjoy the same experience?
  • I still like the idea of getting some blank white feather flags and decorating them to use as a “roof” or even on the sides of the booth. Might be able to use them as an art installation at Burning Man too (especially if I put lots of pink hearts on them!)

    Queen Freak Julia overseeing the crafting of freak flags

    Queen Freak Julia overseeing the crafting of freak flags

  • The multi-colored “paint chips” (paper circles) from Oriental Trading were a definite hit this year and were cheap and easy so I want to get more of those.
  • Smaller glue bottles that can be replaced more often seemed to work better than big bottles. I had a few big bottles left over from last year and they wound up being pretty thick and sticky and correspondingly difficult to use (although runny glue has its own problems).
  • I need to figure out some sort of foam mats or flooring to use in at least part of the booth, because all that standing on concrete really hurts my feet and joints by the end of the day/weekend.

    Some interesting answers to the question "What Kind Of Freak Are You?"

    Some interesting answers to the question “What Kind Of Freak Are You?”

  • Next year I need new scissors, mine are finally all super dull and hard to use.
  • Next year I need new hand sanitizer.
  • Booth seems to do best with at least two people in it at all times. It can work with one if it has to, and having three means that people (including me) can take breaks.
  • I had 4 tables and 25 chairs again this year, and that seemed to work pretty well. Same booth location and therefore the same booth set up as last year, which also worked pretty well.
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Freaks Making Flags at Pink Heart Camp, Burning Man 2017

Freaks Making Flags at Pink Heart Camp, Burning Man 2017

[Looking for the pictures from this event? Check the Gallery by clicking here]

Once again I ran the “Fly Your Freak Flag High” (FYFFH) workshop on Thursday at Pink Heart Camp, but it started earlier this year (at 9am), so I had to set an alarm and be out in the front lounge of Pink Heart bright and early. Mom had agreed to help me run the workshop, so she and I grabbed my box of flags and the box of newspapers and sharpies and made it out to the Pink Lounge right before 9. There was actually one eager soul already waiting there for us, but otherwise all was sleepy and early morning-vibe. I roped in a few more people who were hanging around the lounge, and got everyone started coloring. Then I took some blank flags and wandered around trying to convince other people to come play with us. I gave a few flags to the Pinkies working the water bar so they could recruit people who came for water (and do their own flags if they wanted). I realized this year it worked best to invite people to “come color with us” as opposed to “would you like to make a flag/make some art with us”. I think that’s because with the new popularity of adult coloring books and coloring as a meditative/relaxing activity, people were more interested in coming to chill out and color on something while chatting with others than perhaps they were interested in a specific workshop/art-making experience about figuring out what kind of freak they were and displaying that publically. Which is not to say that we didn’t do both (in fact I think the “come color” concept was a good Trojan horse way to ease people in to the fuller experience of thinking about their identities), but the “chill and color” concept seemed to be especially attractive in the early morning (probably would be during the hot afternoon siesta hours as well).

Happy freak flag flyers leaving the "Fly Your Freak Flag High" workshop

Happy freak flag flyers leaving the “Fly Your Freak Flag High” workshop

Another thing I noticed about the FYFFH workshop this year was that even though we had many fewer people participating this year (probably only about 20 folks over the course of the two hours), they were all really into the activity. Many who did participate took it really seriously and spent quite a bit of time making their flags. I had one woman tell me how making her flag really helped her clarify and bring into focus some of the big epiphanies about her burn, and she really appreciated having a way to create a physical memento to remind her of them. Cool! With so relatively few people to manage, I had more time to connect and hear people’s stories about their flags and what they put on them, and give people the gift of being seen and heard as well as the gift of making something to express themselves with.

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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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