On the Ground: Brightmoor's art club for kids

Last week, we reported on ways in which the arts can be used to battle blight in Brightmoor. This week, we look at a program that is using the arts to build citizens at an early age and bringing families in the neighborhood closer together.

The night before Halloween in Brightmoor has not always been a great time for kids. But this Angel's Night, a group of kids and their parents could meet for a safe and fun time at the Kid's Corner Art Club, where making Halloween masks and carving pumpkins were on the agenda.

Every Monday and Wednesday at 4:30 p.m., a sign is planted on the corner of Fenkell and Dacosta in front of St. Christine's Soup Kitchen. It reads, "Kid's Corner Free Art Club," inviting children and parents to come in and hang out.

"Lot's of kids find out about the program through just having the door open or word of mouth," says Katharina Walsh, Brightmoor resident and founder and director of Kid's Corner, a twice weekly after school art club for kids in Brightmoor. "It's open door, it's free, and any kid can come."

Since its founding, Kid's Corner has reached over 170 kids in the neighborhoods. A core group of 20 to 30 kids have been attending regularly for the last two years.

Kid's Corner's mission is "to encourage creativity and positive social interactions through art, craft, music and performance that nourish, uplift and empower children to cultivate their unique and rich potentials."

The mission is achieved through some structured activities, like pumpkin carving, but there are no hard and fast rules about what the kids can and cannot do. Kids are allowed to explore any of their creative inclinations, regardless of whether or not they happen to be on that evening's program. Kid's corner isn't just another class after school. It's a social event where kids can get to know each other and be creative.

For example, during the pumpkin carving last Wednesday, one young lady rallied support from her friends to hold an impromptu singing contest. Some younger kids painted each others faces or noodled on a piano in the corner of the room. Walsh and the parents embrace this spontaneity in the kids. The structure of the program has always been informal.

"I like painting and making new friends," says Gabrielle Houser, 10, who regularly attends Kid's Corner. Gabrielle's older brother Jermaine, 14, also attends regularly. "I have friends who come," he says. "It's a great program for kids who want something to do."

Walsh feels strongly that Kid's Corner fills a gap for youth in the neighborhood. "I think it's really important that kids can get together outside of school in an environment that is different than the classroom and different than home," she says.

"I just moved to Brightmoor from the East Side, and we didn't have anything like this in the old neighborhood," says Brenda Liggons, who brings her two sons to kid's corner every week. "We found out about it when we were walking by. Now my babies don't let me miss it."

Kid's Corner is a labor of love for Katharina Walsh, who, outside of a handful of parents who assist her regularly, runs the program by herself as an unpaid volunteer after spending the day at her job with Jewish Vocational Services, where she does work with special needs adults. St. Christine's Soup Kitchen allows Kid's Corner free access to its facilities, but Walsh and parents have to do cleanup, which, after events like pumpkin carving and spending two hours playing with the kids, can be intensive.

Walsh started the program in January 2012.

"In 2011, we were running a youth employment program in the neighborhood with teenagers," says Walsh as she reflects on Kid's Corner's origins. "We did a lot of impromptu neighborhoods arts projects. It became more organized because winter was coming and there wasn't anything to do outside in the neighborhood."

When weather permits, Kid's Corner is held outside. In the summer, Walsh and the kids will set up painting easels on the sidewalk or meet in a neighborhood park. During the school year, Walsh and parent volunteers provide homework help to the kids in addition to artistic activities.

Michelle Young is a parent who has regularly volunteered to help at Kid's Corner while her daughter Gia participates in activities. "I grew up in the neighborhood in the 80s," says Young. "I watched the downfall, then I moved to the suburbs. To move back and see the change is remarkable."

A simple thing like a free art club for neighborhood kids has done wonders to help build community in Brightmoor. A place where kids can get to know each other and learn to express themselves outside of the home and school is something quite unique in the city of Detroit and, moreover, suburban areas. Of course, Kid's Corner could not happen without the drive and dedication of community leaders like Katharina Walsh.

If you have any interest in volunteering to assist children with crafts/art/homework help, please email Katharina Walsh.

Matthew Lewis is project editor for the On the Ground series.
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Matthew Lewis is a writer and former managing editor of Model D. He's currently the communications officer for the New Economy Initiative.