Brightmoor Maker Space expands community presence and innovative partnership

Source: Michigan News

Brightmoor Maker Space increased its presence in the Brightmoor community with the acquisition of more land and an expanded partnership with the Ishinomaki Laboratory, becoming the first and only U.S. manufacturer through the “Made in Local” initiative of simple high-end furniture.

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To purchase a bench, contact Nick Tobier.

Brightmoor Maker Space


Nick Tobier, professor of art and design at the University of Michigan and co-founder of the Brightmoor Maker Space, learned about the Ishinomaki Lab through the Center of Japanese Studies at U-M. After a conversation with Tokyo-based architect Keiji Ashizawa and a visit from him to the workshop, the partnership began.

The collaboration led to the creation of A-frame benches that were donated to various local establishments, including Sweet Potato Sensations, churches, a boutique hotel, and hipster coffee shops. “It’s cheaper for us to build in Detroit than for them to ship it from Japan,” Tobier said of the benches that sell for $100.

Neighbors Bench outside Sweet Potato Sensations on Lasher Road. Credit: Nick Tobier.

The Detroit Maker Space is a collaboration between Detroit Community Schools, a charter school, the U-M Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design, and The Sunbridge International Collaborative. Located in the Brightmoor neighborhood of northwest Detroit, the makerspace encourages community members ages 14 to 30 years old to develop creative confidence, improve hand making skills, and help revitalize their community.

In the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the center demonstrated its adaptability. Tobier recalled how students stated their dislike for online learning, not to mention the lack of computers. Instead, worksheets and materials would get dropped off at their homes and soon after turned to outdoor classes when it was considered safe, while adhering to CDC guidelines. 

Detroit Community High School and Stamps students building Best Nest birdhouses. Credit: Nick Tobier

Since opening the 3,200-square-foot abandoned Ford garage in 2018, the Brightmoor Maker Space has acquired eight vacant lots at Blackstone Street and Fullerton Avenue from the Detroit Land Bank, transforming former dumping grounds into a vibrant park. “Over the summer we built a fence and planters along the edge with a musical playscape for young kids made out of bicycle forks that they can tap on,” Tobier said.

From the beginning, the Brightmoor Maker Space’s vision has been centered around community ownership. While U-M played an initial role as a partner, the goal has always been for the youth to manage and operate the space, shifting away from university control. Students run the day-to-day activities while oversight comes from the founder of Detroit Community Schools Bart Eddy.  

Quentin working on student desks. Credit: Walt Swanson.

The center’s vision is for students to apply their carpentry skills to construct tiny houses on the vacant lots. Students would have both a tiny house for living space and workshops, creating opportunities for high school graduates who have an interest in launching businesses related to woodworking or other crafts. 

“They would be the first occupants to have a house and a workshop and then we would grow a creative community that way,” Tobier said. 

With the building of tiny homes, the center is exploring innovative solutions in addressing Detroit’s affordable housing crisis. 

Founded with a commitment to the four Waldorf principles, exceptional education, innovative teaching, inspired minds, and responsible community, the Brightmoor Maker Space has fulfilled Tobier’s passion, the love of hands-on learning.”We started the school with Waldorf principles to educate the whole child—hands, heart, and mind,” Tobier said.

Students also have built Outdoor Classrooms that were supported by grants we from the Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan and the National Endowment for the Arts and are located at Live Coal Gallery, St. Suzanne’s, Wellspring, Mission City and Prayer Park.

Building an outdoor classroom at St. Suzanne’s Cody Rouge Community Action Center. Credit: Nick Tobier

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