Bright Art Paths is an initiative to unite residents of all ages in the Brightmoor neighborhood of Detroit through a series of community-curated artistic residencies, educational installations, workshops, classes, performances, and creative play adventures along a walkable one-mile pathway.
ArtPlace: What does your organization do, and what is its role in the Bright Art Paths project?
Laughing Moon: Superhero Training Academy works with the mighty genius of children to build worlds of mythic imagination. Kids tap into their inspirations and build personal mythology mosaics connected to myths and media, archetypes, and real life heroes – brought to life through imaginative play, art and literacy, adventure courses, and the occasional horde of supervillains.
Our role in Bright Art Paths is to design and build a “Mythic Adventure Playscape” that will free up new dimensions of creativity and connection in kids, families and the community. We are also responsible for connecting other community spaces together through programs and play installations.
We've spent the past few years learning the education spaces here [STA’s “first era” began in 2006 in Clarkston, Michigan] and meeting kids in various contexts. These included child care centers, a literacy center, playgrounds and pocket parks.
ArtPlace: What have your top takeaways been from these efforts so far: successes and/or lessons learned?
Laughing Moon: We tried to expand too fast. We needed a better feedback loop between vision and practice. Talking and planning can really get in the way of building relationships through the contagious energy of experimenting. We needed to start with small projects and keep renewing vision from the momentum of small accomplishments.
Even in our own summer camps, we overestimated abilities to carry out project designs with placemaking. Our learning is about scaffolding better – we shifted and built a few basic structures to give a more coherent context for design. We are just now working with neighborhood kids in the design of spaces.
The hardest lesson has been the balance of inclusion and boundaries. We practiced a wide range of inclusion and got associated with neighbors that had problems with local gang members, which resulted in us being hit with a firebombing. [That event] shed light on gang culture, and the terrorizing way it can taint the atmosphere of a place.
Fortunately, our superhero ‘footquarters’ had a forcefield of grace, and the firebomb just shattered a window and our stability. Fire has a long history as a problem-solving technique here. Firebombs are a quick, powerful, and sweeping way to problem-solve. Some say even the cops used to firebomb houses during ‘Devil's Night’ of old, to get rid of houses that were ‘trouble.’
[Following the incident], creating boundaries with levels of inclusion has helped us define who we are not, which provides clarity for others.
ArtPlace: What's next on your agenda: for 2019? For next year? For the long term?
Laughing Moon: In 2019, we unite neighborhood kids, residents and high school students and begin building creative variations of basic playground elements – swings of all kinds, giant sandboxes, wooden creatures, etc. Installations of these activate local parks, playgrounds, and childcare centers.
Next year, our Mythic Adventure Playscape is open in full force.
In the long term, we partner with steady education spaces to enrich their play spaces and multi-age learning engagement. Probably lots of supervillain invasions of playgrounds and family programs at schools :)
- Watch videos by Superhero Training Academy on YouTube
- Connect with Laughing Moon at (248) 921-6461 or laughingmoon [at] superherotraining.org
- Write to or stop by STA’s ‘footquarters’ at 15086 Dolphin St, Detroit, MI 48223