Written by Ilana Stark & Caroline Stringfellow

Few people have the luxury of being able to say they make a living doing what they love. Last weekend, we had the privilege of being in a room surrounded by over 200 people, who could. The inspiring group of artists, entrepreneurs and creators were gathered together for Maker City Summit.

Six years ago, a small group of  DS-ers attended Etsy’s Maker Cities Summit in Brooklyn, NY and returned feeling so inspired they created one in Knoxville. Soon after, the city of Knoxville was named the first “Etsy Maker City”. And that’s when we got to jump back in. We were given the opportunity to help the Maker City brand establish its visual identity. It’s an organization close to our hearts. To this day, our very own Tuyen Ho serves as a council member of the organization.  

This year’s Maker City Summit was exhilarating, educational and entertaining for the creative mind. The event was back in-person at Knoxville’s Maker Exchange, meaning the kombucha and artistic spirit were flowing once again. Just days before the Autumn equinox, speakers, panelists and workshop leaders guided conversations around building your business, becoming a better creative and pursuing your dreams, sharing insightful lessons they’ve learned through their careers and inspiring exercises to help trigger creativity. 

We rallied our creative team together and took the multi-day trip up to the summit, and here are some of the key learnings we came out the other side with. There were a few themes driving these makers’ passion for creation and keeping their spark alive. 

Lesson 1: The human component of art is what gives it value.

“The key to fulfillment is remembering it’s about human connection.” - Andy J. Pizza, Illustrator, Podcaster and Public Speaker, Creative Pep Talk Podcast 

Many of the speakers expressed the sentiment that connection is at the center of it all. Not in the sense of having “a foot in the door,” but in the deeper sense of creating work that’s worthy of someone’s attention because it resonates with them.  

Lesson 2: Create boundaries.

“The rhythm of your life is made up by choice.” - Amelia Bartlett, Business Strategist and Community Weaver, The Money Class, Vision Casting

As human beings, we’re limited to a fixed amount of time, resources and attention. Our strongest work and boldest ideas happen when we are intentional and decisive about how we use those resources. To create a sustainable process and reasonable expectations, we need to set boundaries with ourselves, our clients and our commitments.

Lesson 3: Your brand needs to move. 

“First impressions can be lasting or last impressions.” - Lindsay Brine, Creative Director, Brand Strategist, Consultant, Radford University

Your work needs to grow and evolve with society, your audience, and yourself. Every creator needs to periodically consider who they are making for, why they are making and what they are making. This reflection of strategy, purpose and process is the best tool to keep your brand from going stale.

Lesson 4: Put yourself first. 

Getting sleep leads to a holistic you. At the core of your art, is the way you take care of yourself. Tell a compelling story and live your life the same way. With the shift in the ethos of Earth came a change in the pathos of the summit. The noticeable emphasis on taking care of yourself to take care of your work pivoted to focus on the way your work, and your workstyle, impacts others.

Lesson 5: Take the extra time to seek diversity.

When creating your team, outsourcing help, or looking for “a brain to pick,” consider who you are talking with to diversify your view to expand your audience. The cost of taking an extra 30 seconds scrolling to the next page of Google, or a freelance site, is well-worth the resulting return on investment the broadened perspective adds. Being intentional with who you communicate with, why, and how you do it helps the greater good of the world.

From there, the breakout sessions ensued – covering topics relevant to the maker space, from legal foundations to digital mapping, starting a food business, and selling products online – and we all split up to dive deeper into our individual interests. 

The event was a refreshing reset. A favorite moment was speaking to Martha Weeks from JAM Camp Communications, who gave a workshop on storytelling. She taught us the importance of maintaining a story bank, shared “confidence hacks” for public speaking, and challenged us to craft six word stories. 

Telling stories for so long can naturally cause you to forget the purpose. The art of telling a good story starts with going back to the basics, looking at the foundation and building blocks, and using this reflection to simplify what is overcomplicated in the marketing world. 

Our creative team reconvened on Tuesday for lunch at our signature spot, Don Gallo, and to reflect on our weekend. Munching on chips and salsa, we shared our experiences in the different breakout rooms and the networking opportunities we seized. Maker City Summit is ever-evolving, just like the creative world we live, work and make in. The added beauty of events like these is that something different resonated with everyone; we were all able to express what we learned in the breakout sessions and reinforce the lessons with one another.

We could all agree that the main benefit was simply being present at the event. The energy in Maker Exchange, the vibrant new event venue across from the Sunsphere, was reason enough to return next year to the walls covered in beautiful art and branding with ideas bouncing off every inch. It was a creative refresh, a reminder of why working with many artists and innovators can be so rewarding. 

Not to mention the INCREDIBLE food. An enormous shout out to Bailey Foster at Real Good Kitchen for nurturing creative minds and filling our plates with culinary masterpieces. Thank you for crafting us diverse cuisine that reflected the values instilled throughout the summit. 


Maker City Summit brought together a range of local businesses, entrepreneurs, and creatives.  It gave this community–handbag designers, frontend developers, musicians, chefs, authors, TikTok trendsetters, and many others–the gift of conversation and collaboration with makers beyond our usual circles. 

Although we all have different creative expertise, one thing brought us together. We are all makers.

Stay up-to-date with all things Maker City, get involved, support an artist, and don’t miss the next Summit: themakercity.org.