“Not everybody has a Mr. Eddy,” says Diallo Carr, one of the student woodworkers in the Brightmoor Makerspace, when considering what makes the program so special. Bart Eddy is the founder and program director of the Brightmoor Makerspace program; his passion for teaching and providing opportunity to students through hands on, experiential learning is undeniably infectious. He can often be found on workdays at the makerspace making students laugh with dramatic pep talks ending in a call for everyone to “get down to the dough!”
The Brightmoor Makers program began as a youth employment program, cleaning up the Brightmoor neighborhood in the summer of 2011. Bart worked with Detroit Community High School students to reclaim abandoned lots in the area by cleaning them up through landscaping projects, the first of which was at Leland Missionary Baptist Church. Bart and the students teamed up with a landscape architect and artist from Germany, Johannes Mattieson, to create a sacred garden for the church in the shape of a spiral. “We realized that everyone is interested in experiential and hands on learning, so that was our first impulse, to begin to work out in the community and engage in projects that literally, physically started to transform the community, through mainly landscape projects,” Bart says of the program’s beginnings.
When they wrapped up their landscape projects that summer, the group realized that there was no woodworking option at Detroit Community High School, where the students attended school and Bart worked. The students were interested in learning, so to continue their work together, Bart set out to teach the students woodworking. “We took over an abandoned garage in Brightmoor next to some vacant land that we were working on, we built our own workbenches, and we started our own woodworking program. And so we made four signs that summer as a community service, and lo and behold after that, when we came back into the school in the fall, people wanted to order signs from us! So really we began as curbside economics and entrepreneurship. But to go further back, our real goal was always to connect the school with the surrounding community.”
The Brightmoor Makers program has grown dramatically since it’s curbside days, now housed in it’s own building behind the school and taking commisions from various organizations and businesses throughout the city. The program now includes gardening, screenprinting, and bike mechanics in addition to woodworking. But even before the program existed in practice, Bart was dreaming it up. As he was working on his MFA in education at Wayne State, Bart was teaching at the Detroit Waldorf school and working on his thesis, called “Creating an Urban High School,” which was all about creating a holistic high school. In this school, Bart says there would be a “balance between the academic, artistic, and practical. I had no idea if this would even be possible, but I knew it was what I wanted to try to do.” After completing his Master’s degree, Bart and his partner Candace Sweda were able to develop a charter and start a school in the old St. Susan school on Detroit’s West Side in 1997 – and thus, Detroit Community High School began.
The Brightmoor Makers program branched out of this school, originally named “Entrepreneurship in Action.” Bart recalls that the idea of a Makerspace didn’t exist, at least as a common term, when the school began in 1997. Even two decades later it had only begun to surface in the hands-on learning community. Regardless of the program name, Bart says “this vision of working with young people in a broader and more inclusive way with the arts, the social arts, and practical hands on work – that was the original intention.”
Understanding that the program couldn’t pay the students to work there indefinitely after graduation, the goal is to equip them with the ability to start their own businesses. “We see this kind of work as being essential to all young people, and we would like to ultimately create a kind of school in the future that would promote an education from the ground up, something we call the developmental pathway of work, bringing young people through the ranks of apprentice, journeyman, master, entrepreneur. We’re trying to move in the direction of engaging young people in the development of hands on skills, and to start their own small business endeavors, at very minimum as secondary sources of income.”
But entrepreneurship and community engagement are not the only pieces to this puzzle, as Bart sees it. The Developmental Pathway of Work that guides the programming at the Makerspace intends to address multiple issues, “but the key issues that we’re looking at include, whatever we do, trying to look at it as engaging in community transformation. And in the process of working for the betterment of the community, we also realize that we are changing ourselves in the process, transforming ourselves. That includes the students, the staff, the whole community.”
But what does transformation look like? Bart notes that the a major issue in the Brightmoor community is trauma, and says that “we know that craftwork, artwork, hands-on creation, are major healing processes. They have the possibility of setting out young people on a healing pathway, so we understand that there is tremendous power embedded in the arts crafts and hands on activity, we understand that these are rarely taught in schools, and if they are taught in schools it’s seen only as an elective.”
The makerspace programming aims to center this work in such a way that entrepreneurship and independence can grow alongside the healing process. “I’ve been involved in this crazy thing since the very beginning,” Bart says with a laugh, and he shows no sign of stopping any time soon.