HUMBOLDT PARK — A youth-focused architecture and design nonprofit that operated out of an old USPS truck opened its first brick-and-mortar location this month in Humboldt Park.
Mobile Makers Chicago, an organization founded by local architect Maya Bird-Murphy, is the latest tenant in the Kimball Arts Center at 1757 N. Kimball Ave., a newly renovated arts warehouse home to several artists and creative businesses.
Bird-Murphy and her team received $30,000 from the Bulls to build out the Kimball Arts Center space through the NBA’s 75th Anniversary Legacy Project, an initiative focused on funding play spaces for youth in cities across the country.
Mobile Makers Chicago headquarters had its grand opening June 11. The organization offers a range of low-cost architecture, graphic design and digital fabrication workshops for students ages 8-18, particularly for Black, Indigenous and kids of color from the South and West sides.
Online registration for summer programs is now open.
The expansion is a big step forward for Mobile Makers, which only did pop-ups until recently.
Bird-Murphy launched Mobile Makers in 2017 while earning her master’s degree in architecture at Boston Architectural College. In 2020, she converted an old USPS truck into a roving architecture and design class as she worked on her thesis and after working for architecture firms where she was the only woman of color.
“It was all about if we put all of the design tools and education into a truck, then we can bring it to communities,” Bird-Murphy said. “You’re breaking down all of the barriers, meeting communities where they are.”
Bird-Murphy and her small team use the truck to travel to schools and events across the city, teaching kids problem-solving and design skills that translate into a myriad of careers, not just architecture.
One of Mobile Makers’ program is Community Makers. For the program, kids analyze a certain site, like an empty lot in Humboldt Park, and come up with design proposals for the parcel using mapping and other tools.
The Humboldt Park brick-and-mortar allows Mobile Makers to expand its programs and serve more students, Bird-Murphy said.
“More and more studies are coming out about the mental health of young people right now. They really need a place to be that’s not home or school, and we just want to be that safe and consistent place where they know they’re going to be taken care of, their parents know they’re taken care of,” she said.
Bird-Murphy said she’s grateful to the Bulls and to the owners of Kimball Arts Center, who donated to her organization, for helping fund Mobile Makers’ “next chapter.” But they plan to keep using the truck for events, she said.
Adrienne Scherenzel-Curry, vice president of community engagement for the Bulls, said the organization was impressed with Mobile Makers and wanted to invest in its future.
“Most teams do a gym or something like that, and we could’ve done that, too, but we really wanted to do something that was a partnership piece and something that’s really supportive of the community in a unique way,” Scherenzel-Curry said.
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