Skate Park, Ian Bradley, 2021

This spring, students at Western Career Prep, an alternative high school in Jackson, MI, participated in a workshop called “Maker Space.” In the workshop, they explored the medium of miniatures. The artists were given blank dioramas and created three-dimensional scenes out of recycled materials. 

Through the creation of these models, artists explore miniature art mediums, sculpture, and their personal aesthetics, designing unique domestic, occupational, recreational and fantasy spaces. Artists utilized unconventional and recycled materials, sourced from Arts and Scraps, that welcomed youth artists’ inherent ingenuity and creativity. Artists’ Maker Spaces reflect their interests, passions, future visions and identities as artists.

Wyoming, Rylee Lenneman, 2021

All participants received a full tote bag of art supplies, most of which were sourced secondhand from Detroit-based nonprofit Arts & Scraps. These recycled materials, many of which were small bits of plastic and sticky foam sourced from the area’s auto manufacturers, found a second life as these YAA artists transformed them into tiny lamps, traffic cones, movie theatre seating, and fencing for a barnyard scene. 

While each diorama was formed from 2 walls and a floor made out of a square foot of fibreboard, many of the artists thought outside of the box. Eugene George Avery IV made an outdoor landscaping business, complete with astroturf clippings sprinkled over the ground and a lawnmower made of pipe cleaners and sticky foam. Rylee Lennemann’s space was lush and transformative. She used her understanding of color theory to paint a Wyoming sunset behind the bi-level barn made of popsicle sticks in her Maker Space. Nicky Cyphers-Reynolds, Kennedi Clifton, Gracie Jersey, Ian Bradley, Devon Dutton, and Tavin Maples also completed extraordinary dioramas, exploring everything from the horrors of post-apocalyptic war, to the joys of an early 2000s movie theatre.

Artist Kennedi Clifton spoke about how working on “Kenz Vinyls”, her 1980s themed miniature record store, was inspired by her connection to her family.

Artist Kennedi Clifton with her Maker Space, titled Kenz’ Vinyls, 2021

“My mom had introduced me to vinyl when my grandpa had died. She introduced me to music she’d listened to as a child, and I took a liking to it. [She and] my grandpa would listen to a bunch of these records. My grandpa was a big influence on me, and I really looked up to him.”


Western Career Prep principal Brandon Baum and superintendent Michael Smajda attended the artist reception and had deep praise for the artists’ achievements. “We are extremely impressed and excited for the creativity our students are able to show with this project. They did a wonderful job! We are so thankful for the opportunity Youth Arts Alliance provides for Career Prep.”

Kenz’ Vinyls, Kennedi Clifton, 2021

Fifty miles away in Ypsilanti, Michigan, another set of Maker Spaces were evolving. Youth Arts Alliance simultaneously partnered with artists from Our House, a Washtenaw County based organization that serves the needs of individuals who are exiting the foster care system , to create miniature worlds in the winter of 2021. 

Workshop participants Joycelyn Winchester, Alexis Deese, and Marcus Compton worked diligently alongside YAA Teaching Artist Kana Kubota and YAA Founding Director Heather Martin to explore themes of agency and choice in their models. Alexis’s model evolved into a tiny version of a glam pink bedroom she had always dreamed of having. She added details such as a tiny printed photo of her partner and child as a way of celebrating her family in the piece. Joycelyn had a vision for a shoe store. The walls of her model were splashed with a graphic mural and tiny seats for trying on shoes were made of complementary colored foam squares. Marcus went all out on their design, creating a lofted bed made of cardboard, a lattice ceiling made of wooden skewers, and a bookshelf filled with dozens of tiny books with colorful spines. 

Joycelyn’s World, Joycelyn WInchester, 2021

For Joycelyn, attending the Maker Space workshops was where she “found [her] love for art.” It is not uncommon for Youth Arts Alliance workshops to serve as young peoples’ first immersive arts experience facilitated by healing centered practitioners. The YAA focus on self exploration, dedication to a practice, experimentation, mindfulness, and expression, was encapsulated by the Maker Space project, which will be replicated in future workshop cycles.

Youth artists who participated in the Maker Space workshop will be honored by having their pieces displayed at the Michigan State University Eli & Edythe Broad Art Museum, as part of an exhibition titled Making Space: Designing Young Futures. The exhibition opens August 22, with a public reception on September 10. Artists and their families will be invited to the MSU campus on a group visit day organized by Youth Arts Alliance for all artists they serve. Information for visitors will be forthcoming at https://broadmuseum.msu.edu/