Detroit is a city that is rich in art and art history. Detroit captures viewers with eye-catching murals like the Stevie Wonder Mural on the Music Hall building in downtown Detroit. Or it’s timeless architecture and paintings that fill the Fisher Building. It is home to one of the largest and most notable art collections in the U.S. at the Detroit Institute of Arts. The city also gives space to hidden gem galleries like MBAD African Bead Museum, a gallery, and outdoor art installations. Each summer the Movement Music Festival invites guests to Detroit’s underground art scene. The Detroit art community is a melting pot filled with conventional and unconventional works of art. It is constantly expanding and PLAYGROUND DETROIT is contributing to the legacy by providing space, programming, network, and creative expansion.
In an effort to bridge the gap between Detroit’s art community and the likes of New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, Detroit natives, Paulina Petkoski and Samantha Banks Schefman founded the Detroit-based art organization in 2012.
Working with emerging artists is really inspiring.” Petkoski went on, “It’s an important time in the artist’s career where they need that extra support. I think that there’s just so much opportunity to guide them in the direction that they wanna go.
The PLAYGROUND DETROIT gallery space opened in November 2017. The Detroit-based brown brick building was constructed in 1877 in the Mcdougall-Hunt neighborhood, an area next to Eastern Market, off of the freeway, easy for art lovers from around the world to access.
The commitment to art and the art community is at the forefront of PLAYGROUND’s mission. Being a creative herself, Petkoski often looks back on her own journey with more understanding of how the artistic path is not always linear. She works to be an advocate for black and brown artists in the commercial business space. She says, “I enjoy finding myself in rooms where I am usually representing a larger group of people that typically wouldn’t be in those rooms. I constantly make sure that my voice and everybody else that I hope to speak on behalf of is heard.”
Having worked with hundreds of artists, PLAYGROUND DETROIT artists are advised on artist organizational strategy and execution. The artists receive brand direction, social media management, special events planning, advertisement, and marketing. PLAYGROUND also helps with seemingly basic, but critical things like where to find good framing and how to price your art. They also foster relationships between creatives in Detroit and beyond by inviting like-minded people into the gallery space to share ideas, thoughts, and art. Petkoski says, “The artists say it’s nice to have someone do the heavy lifting.”
In 2019, PLAYGROUND launched its 20/20 Emerging Artist Fellowship. The two-year juried art development program works with 20 selected artists. The selected artists receive a stipend of $2,000, a professional development strategy, and a solo exhibition at the PLAYGROUND gallery space.
The two artists formed the arts organization after Petkoski graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City and Schefman moved to NYC after graduating from the College of Creative Studies in Detroit. With the desire to cross-promote and expose emerging artists and performers, the two created pop-up exhibitions, and concerts, between Detroit and New York. They orchestrated this connection for two years before Petkoski returned to Detroit in 2014, and Schefman moved back the following year.
Once back in Detroit, they applied for a grant through the Motor City Match Program with the goal to continue programming and have a gallery space for their artists. The Motor City Match Program was founded in 2015 with the goal to help start and expand established businesses in Detroit. The program does this through one-on-one consulting, group classes, seminars, and through financial grants. With a dream to own a space, PLAYGROUND organized a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign at the end of November 2016 with the goal of raising $75,000 to make the PLAYGROUND DETROIT space a reality.
But, Petkoski and Schefman did not wait to rely on random acts of donation kindness to raise funds. Petkoski and Schefman offered strategic art programming, art experiences, and art products for supporters to purchase. They sold artwork from established, local, and emerging artists like Ouizi, Ellen Rutt, and Marlo Broughton. Supporters of PLAYGROUND could also buy private tours through art studios, tickets could be purchased to concerts featuring live music from emerging and established, local and national artists at Detroit-based sound and recording studio Assemble Sound. After more than a month of fundraising, they exceeded the Kickstarter goal with a total of $75,630 and 547 backers.
PLAYGROUND DETROIT is still providing new and innovative ways to support local artists. It’s important for the community to support its mission to continue the synergistic art ecosystem. While in meetings representing marginalized groups Petkoski says she explains, “Why it’s important to provide not just community-based initiatives like public mural projects or beautification initiatives, but hiring artists for their services and work and creating viable career paths that really enable them to be retained.” She says that the goal is to support and retain our Detroit talent so we don’t lose them to the hustle and bustle of another city.
“I think everybody’s story reflects in their artwork and it’s interesting to see so many different perspectives and personalities that really shine brightly, especially from a city that is often seen as kind of an underdog.” Petkoski goes on to say,
I certainly think that there are very talented people here who just keep their heads down and work hard. Unlike New York or other cities that are a bit more flashy or competitive, I think people here are really just doing their own thing and deserve to have that recognition and spotlight put on them.
PLAYGROUND DETROIT knows that partnerships are key to continuing growth in the arts community. Partnership initiatives with organizations like Cranbrook, and the McArthur Binion Residency push black and emerging artists forward. Such as the 20/20 Emerging Artist, Keto Green, exhibiting now in the gallery. Green is a contemporary artist from Detroit that creates abstract artwork from found objects. He uses his art to escape the troubles of pain, heartbreak, and suffering he has experienced through being unhoused. Next up in the gallery is Mike Han who is premiering his designs for his first solo gallery art show for Detroit’s month of design, September 2023.
As always, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter for regular updates on all things Detroit.