The Creative Makerspace will offer the youth of West Willow a chance to learn creative, business, and social skills to help them thrive in their community. West Willow has been dubbed by the USDA as “ground zero” due to the lack of a grocery store or any type of convenience store within walking distance. This project aims to offer the youth of this underserved community an opportunity to learn the physical art of restoring & remixing furniture while building skills in entrepreneurship and community-building.
My name is Elisa and I am a heart-led queer artist motivated to open doors of creative potential in Washtenaw County. Of the many projects I’ve been honored to support, my favorite was the Community Wing Project in Ypsilanti, where with the help of Educate Youth, we built life size wings from feathers created by the city’s youth. They were displayed at local organizations including the Ypsilanti Community Schools Administration Office. We also had them on display during First Fridays Ypsi. It was my honor to go into classes in Ypsi to give prompts to the children such as “draw your name” or “whose smile brightens your day” or “use your favorite color”. Interacting and engaging our youth to step into their creativity and give them permission to create is what lights me up.
As COVID ushered a new era into our lives, I started giving new life to old furniture, remixing the modern and the traditional, and it has been both an emotional salve and financial boost in my life. I was first inspired to start this work when a friend asked me to repaint a desk into a pink poppy. The process of creating this piece was so profound, it literally saved me. As my relationship with this practice deepened, it dawned on me that this process could be transformative for young folks who need emotional support and financial opportunity.
Shortly after this epiphany, I reached out to Joshua McAllister, a Marine veteran who works in West Willow to encourage entrepreneurship and draw resources into the community. His work involves building community from the ground up. He works with locals to manage a thriving urban garden and bee keep, and he runs the local neighborhood association, so he is well-suited to run the business side of the program.
The long term vision is to build a Creative Makerspace, which feeds into the West Willow Farmer's market. The first maker project is Furniture Remixing.
We gather young people in the community to upcycle found and donated furniture items into remixed, modern art objects. We then sell these pieces at the local farmer’s market thus creating a pipeline of creative exploration & financial success.
The goal is to teach young people the process of implementing a creative idea, following through to a finished product, and to connect with the community to sell their work. All while learning valuable skills such as beginner carpentry (measuring, marking, cutting, nailing, sanding, painting), safety awareness, time management, sales & marketing, and positive social engagement.
Youth will remix furniture with my guidance and once complete, they will work with Joshua to develop an artist profile and a booth display to showcase at the farmer’s market. They will also receive training to help them learn how to engage at a market, share their story, and sell their piece.
We will pay youth $15/hr and a bonus after their piece is sold at the local West Willow farmer’s market, ensuring this is a sustainable project.
The furniture will be remixed in the public Creative Makerspace community center. Once complete, items will be showcased and sold at the local farmer’s market. Each item will be accompanied by a profile of the artist, prepared by the artist.
Our audience is the direct community where the makerspace lives. This neighborhood is historically disconnected as it draws students into four different school districts: Belleville, Van Buren, Lincoln Consolidated and Ypsilanti Community Schools.
We envision this project as a tool for social engagement to spur genuine and authentic connections.
We are bringing creative space into a community that historically has been underserved. West Willow is recognized by the government as a community in dire straits, and welfare is not enough. The community needs inspiration and creative support. This project perfectly blends artistic talent, vocational skill, and financial education to teach young people how to thrive and give back to themselves and their community. Studies show that skills like woodworking can assist in the brain's production and reception of dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins—key players in a well-functioning brain. Our hypothesis is that the experience of this project will build feelings of self-empowerment and kickstart young people onto a path of self-efficacy, community engagement, and financial stability.