Worlds of Possibility
Three design-led projects aimed at helping children dream and thrive
Good news is the best news. So today, we’re celebrating three uplifting initiatives led by stellar creatives, each aimed at cultivating community and empowering children—through the power of art and design. Read on for some make-you-smile inspiration.
Serena Confalonieri in Milan
Just this month, Italian designer Serena Confalonieri—who’s known for creating joyful objects and spaces marked by striking combinations of color and form—debuted Quadra, a vibrant urban intervention in the Quarto Oggiaro district of Milan. Created in close partnership with community volunteers, and sponsored by the Municipality of Milan’s Piazze Aperte redevelopment initiative, the project transformed an empty, uninviting parking lot into a stimulating play environment for the neighborhood’s children and families.
“My hope,” Confalonieri tells us, “is that [the community] can realize that our neighborhood and our streets are not just something that somebody else gave us, but rather we own them, and we are able to make them better ourselves.”
The project was realized entirely through grassroots organizing; a group of citizens noticed that children were playing between cars in the lot, envisioned change, and went to the city and local schools to rally support. As enthusiasm grew, Confalonieri coordinated the rehab plan to ensure those who would use the space most had a hand in its final design.
She explains: “We worked directly with one primary school just next to the lot. All of the students were encouraged to make drawings of the future square. As they were all very colorful and playful, I knew what the kids wanted when I began to sketch out the design. I also took into consideration the functional and urbanistic needs as well as the parents' requests. All of the kids and parents were invited to take part in the realization of the design, together with a group of volunteers, in order to give them a sense of direct belonging to this new colorful urban space.”
The neighborhood gathered just a few weeks ago to paint the lot, plant trees, and install new bicycle racks. “It took months from the moment everything was ready to the moment we were able to realize it due Covid issues and bad weather,” Confalonieri tells us. “So, when we finally were able to do it, we were so ready to work hard and do something meaningful together.”
Nadania Idriss in Berlin
Since 2017, Kiez Mobil—a mobile, glass-fusing workshop series for kids—has been rolling around the city of Berlin working with public schools, youth clubs, and refugee communities. Intended for kids aged five years and up, the hands-on courses encourage confidence and creativity at the same time that children learn a new skill and develop fine motor skills.
The program was founded by American art historian Nadania Idriss, who says, “It's amazing to see how empowering the arts are for kids. Glass fusing in particular is a fun way to engage kids in an activity with a material that’s often considered unsuitable for children. However, fusing glass is a wonderful art form that kids really can do—and one that inspires concentration and teamwork too.”
Notably, Kiez Mobil is not Idriss’ only altruistic endeavor; six years ago, she also launched Berlin Glassworks—an educational platform, workshop, and artist residency program centered around the glassblowing tradition—in her adopted city.
During recent lockdowns, Idriss and her team also launched Kiez Mobil To Go—further streamlining their already mobile operation with to-go project boxes for educators. And now, as the city shows signs of reopening, Kiez Mobil’s preparing to launch their latest in-person workshop series with a fresh, technological twist. Slated to run alongside a new exhibition called Tacit Dialogues—which explores the art of glass blowing through digital means—the latest Kiez Mobil kids workshops will combine hands-on making and digital collaborations with innovative artists from around the city.
Mimi Jung in LA and Beyond
In 2020, artist Mimi Jung debuted a series of stunning fiber-based works directly inspired by her experiences as a foster parent, in a show at Carvalho Park in Brooklyn. That same year, she launched Happy Trails Art Start, a one-year pilot program dedicated to serving foster teens through a highly customized studio art curriculum, organized in collaboration with LA-based nonprofit Happy Trails for Kids.
Driven by a deeply personal connection to the conditions that foster youth face—“feelings of isolation, invisibility, and consistent distress,” as Jung points out—the program shares art supplies, workshops, and mentorship with kids who show an avid interest in the arts. As the pandemic hit, Jung’s in-person initiatives transferred to the web, and care packages of materials and personal notes were delivered to the participants by mail.
“My goal,” Jung explains, “is to provide teens in foster care with tools—through highly customized studio art classes and virtual talks hosted by a diverse group of creative professionals—that will guide them towards a life of fulfillment after aging out of the system.”
As the pilot came to a close in December, Jung is currently working to expand the reach of the program to a national community of teenagers in foster care. The new, broader iteration is set to launch later this year. “I will be collaborating with multiple nonprofit organizations to recruit and serve a select group of foster youth across the country,” Jung says. “Like my previous program, the curriculum will combine virtual studio art classes with studio tours and lectures from diverse creative professionals—as well as a safe and creative space for foster youth to be encouraged, heard, and seen.” ◆