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MOOS teens to shake up IngenuityFest

MOOS students working on the swing prototype

MOOS students working on the swing prototype

Ten-foot-tall swings, climbing walls and a sculpture bristling with lights. This is not a description for some fantastical playground, but a project a group of Cleveland-area youth are bringing to this year's IngenuityFest.
 
Eleven students from Shaker Heights' Moreland district, all members of the Making Our Own Space (MOOS) placemaking initiative, are currently conceptualizing plans for the popular arts and technology festival, which is now in its 12th year. MOOS co-founder David Jurca expects his young participants' creative skills to successfully transfer from neighborhood public spaces to the festival's larger stage.
 
"The project's driving goal is to build confidence in this generation regarding their ability to transform their environment," says Jurca of an effort led by Kent State University’s Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative (CUDC). "At Ingenuity, students are going to step up as workshop leaders because they're more knowledgeable about using tools to build and give direction to others."
 
MOOS's workshops create physical and social infrastructure in collaboration with the surrounding community. Parks and vacant spaces in Moreland as well as Britt Oval in Cleveland's Buckeye neighborhood have been host to swings, snow forts, benches, observation towers and other high-visibility projects. Hildana Park in Shaker Heights has a student-built performance stage along with "trash hoops," where garbage cans are fitted with mini-basketball rims in the name of fun litter control.
 
MOOS swing prototypeSeventh through 11th graders involved with Ingenuity are designing mobile playscape elements like a light sculpture and a combined giant swing/climbing wall, which will be built at The Dealership business accelerator space, then transported to the event site. The creative method includes brainstorming a concept like swinging, then building out from that idea.
 
"The climbing wall suggestion came from a community member," Jurca says. "We went to the library to get images, and looked at playscape equipment from all over the world."
 
The 2016 IngenuityFest takes place in the former Osborne Industrial Complex, 5401 Hamilton Ave., Sept. 23-25. MOOS's efforts during the weekend will include on-site build opportunities for attendees.
 
"Students are going to take on the role of design leaders," says Jurca. "People coming for the event will be learning from our students."
 
Helping guide the process will be Alex Gilliam, Philadelphia-based founder of Public Workshop, a national program for placemaking projects aimed at youth. Gilliam will be in town the week ahead of Ingenuity to gently push ideas to fruition while identifying group members eager to grab leadership roles.
 
"These are people who want to do more and do better - and want to be connected with others with similar aspirations," says Gilliam.
 
Ingenuity itself can be a beacon for empowerment due to the crowds it attracts, adds the project supporter.
 
"Give a 15-year-old girl a circular saw and the chance to build something wonderful that meets a community need, and do it in a public way," Gilliam poses. "The effect can be dramatic. Young people will realize their self-efficacy in a manner that would typically take years in a school setting."
 
Ingenuity's highly visible backdrop is also valuable for a society that doesn't always recognize the contributions of teenagers and their place in the community at large.
 
"There's an important opening here for Cleveland," says Gilliam. "Having this (initiative) go on outside of a community building aspect is creating more space for this work in schools and other places." 
 
MOOS co-founder Jurca adds that the Ingenuity experience will not only prepare African-American and Latino youth for a range of hands-on design careers, it will also teach them how to define improvements in ongoing projects, where "failure" is deemed a lesson rather than a stopping point.
 
"It's about celebrating success and jumping into things we can do to make a project better," says Jurca. "That kind of confidence can be carried into the classroom." 

The City of Shaker Heights is part of Fresh Water's underwriting support network.

Read more articles by Douglas J. Guth.

Douglas J. Guth is a Cleveland Heights-based freelance writer and journalist. In addition to Fresh Water, his work has been published by Midwest Energy News, Kaleidoscope Magazine and Think, the alumni publication of Case Western Reserve University. A die-hard Cleveland sports fan, he also writes for the cynically named (yet humorously written) blog Cleveland Sports Torture.   
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