New workshop will teach mechanical skills, creative thinking

Local artist to unveil program at HPPS Hometown Huddle Aug. 31

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison-Park News | Published August 7, 2023

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HAZEL PARK — Richard Gage likes to understand how things work. The namesake artist of Richard Gage Design Studio feels that taking things apart and putting them back together is a form of curiosity-driven learning that many young people don’t experience today.

And so, Gage is teaming up with sculptor Alexandra Virginia Martin, founder of anhelo anhelo, to start a new after-school program that will do just that: The Create and Repair Incubator.

When the program starts, sometime in the new school year, participants will get to tinker with household appliances in a casual environment, learning how they operate. No experience with tools is necessary. The goal is to equip students with life skills that will prove handy around the house. Some students may even discover interests that can lead to new fields of study, or even a career. Gage said the program will hone mechanical skills and promote creative thinking.

The initiative will be officially unveiled at the Hazel Park Public Schools’ Hometown Huddle, set to take place at Hazel Park High, 23400 Hughes Ave., from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 31. The Huddle will kick off the new school year with exhibits on everything the district has to offer.   

“Hopefully it’s going to be fun,” Gage said of the workshop. “As a child growing up, I took our lawnmower apart and figured out stuff. We didn’t take classes. We just explored. So I’m trying to mirror that more carefree aspect of engineering, where we take things apart not necessarily to repair, but for the physicality of using your hands in a fine motor skills sort of way. We will explore the subtle connection between that physicality and the mental aspect. Many will start not knowing anything, and there’s no shame in that.”

The first sessions will take place this fall, after school hours at Richard Gage Design Studio, 425 W. Nine Mile Road. Over the years, Gage has mentored many people there while working on his large-scale sculptures. More sessions are planned for the second semester. Students who show a strong interest will have the opportunity to dive into more intensive growth sessions, learning how to repair the appliances they took apart.

“The workshop might help you learn more about yourself,” Gage said. “We want to give you a safe environment to find the creative and mechanical part of yourself, so that an employer sees the merit of you beyond your grades. You might not become a repairman, but you will learn things so that when you own a home, you won’t have to pay someone to repair things. You will have practiced those skills on some level. You will know how to solve those problems.”

At the Huddle, attendees will be able to mingle at a milk-and-toast bar, enjoying toast with their choice of toppings, and milk to drink. They’ll meet other students and learn about the incubator.

Hazel Park Public Schools is backing the program as part of a larger effort to diversify the experiences available to its students, using a grant through the Oakland County Out of School Time Learning Support Fund, which is facilitated by the United Way for Southeastern Michigan.

Stephanie Dulmage, the district’s assistant superintendent of teaching and learning, said that Hazel Park Public Schools is also planning other grant-funded ideas, such as a “zero hour” at Hazel Park Junior High, where students can access exercise bikes and tutoring services at the start of the day. That program also starts sometime this fall.

“The whole concept behind the grant was based on the impact of COVID, and what we learned about the social and emotional needs of our students,” Dulmage said. “We want to leverage both internal and external expertise in the community to give kids more opportunities in the field, which can help boost their mental health.

“We reached out to (Gage and Martin) and said that we’re looking for some rich experiences for our students that they might not normally have access to, and that’s what led to this incubator,” Dulmage said. “They’ve landed on some concepts that not only explore creative expression, but that also layer in components of perseverance and communication. The kids will develop soft skills — understanding how things work, and how those things enrich their lives.”

A representative from Tony’s Ace Hardware said the business will be donating materials and supplies to the program. Gage said he’s grateful for the support, and he’s excited to see how the students will learn and grow.

“There might be some mathematics involved — let’s say the practical application of calculating things before putting a capacitor back on — and they will see they can do that. They will apply it to real life, and they will realize, ‘I can do math!’ And maybe they will double down on that,” Gage said. “This will make them a more whole person.”