High-Tech Shipping Crate Tries To Spark kids’ Creativity

By Matt Helms
Detroit Free Press.

It’s a simple shipping crate, painted black, in the middle of a cleared lot on Detroit’s east side, but the people who put it there as a pop-up art and technology installation hope it will plant seeds among young people, artists and entrepreneurs interested in futures in tech and creativity.

Inside the shipping crate are two white seats and a table adjacent to flowers along the back wall, with a projection screen and laptop computers equipped with free wireless internet access. People who’ve made careers in the technology field and as artists are scheduled to appear to help spur conversations with whoever shows up.

The idea was the brainchild of Jamal Simmons, a Detroit native who’s a Washington, D.C., political analyst and television commentator, and friend Isaac Madrid, a Los Angeles artist and tech worker.

They launched a new app on Apple’s app store and on Google Play last week called CRVIII (pronoucded Crate, with the VIII in the name standing for the Roman numeral 8). The social-networking app’s goal is to bring together artists, designers, makers and entrepreneurs and give them a space to share their ideas and portfolios, interact and collaborate and find investors and other resources.

CRVIII “is meant to give people the opportunity to show off what they create and what their creative projects are, meet other people who also have those projects, and then find ways to bring those ideas and dreams to reality,” Simmons said Thursday at the launch of the pop-up installation that runs through Saturday.

Simmons, a graduate of Detroit’s Cass Tech, said CRVIII wanted to include young people, artists and entrepreneurs in Detroit who might not otherwise have links to the tech industry or connections to other resources in creative fields.

A major part of CRVIII’s goal is “finding ways to bring technology to communities that have been forgotten,” he said. “We really wanted people who weren’t participating as well in the new technology environment to have a place to come and do so.”

The installation — which runs from 11 a.m to 7 p.m. today and Saturday — is a collaboration of CRVIII; Hantz Farms, the urban farming project on the east side; Three Squared, the company building housing out of shipping containers in the Corktown neighborhood; and Microsoft, which provided tablet computers for visitors to use.

Neighborhood residents curious about the pop-up stopped by Thursday. So did Derrick Townsend, 18, a junior at Detroit’s Southeastern High School who’s a self-taught computer coder and smartphone app developer with big goals: “To not be the next Bill Gates,” he said, “but be better than Bill Gates.”

He met up with Dre Clemons, a Detroit native and industrial designer from Belleville, who offered to be a mentor to Townsend. Clemons works for the French company Dassault Systèmes, a multinational 3-D software company with offices in metro Detroit.

John Hantz, the businessman and Indian Village resident who founded Hantz Farms, said the pop-up accentuates what the urban farming and woodlands projects have done to clean up and stabilize the neighborhoods nearby. Older residents appreciate a renewed sense of neighborhood and walkability, but young people are looking for something more cutting edge and interesting — and perhaps inspiring — to spring up in the neighborhood.

The aim for neighborhood kids with pop-up events like this is to “just keep showing them things they didn’t think were possible,” Hantz said, and to provide chances to learn that their hopes aren’t hallucinations, but real possibilities if they stick with school and go after larger goals.

Madrid, who designed the installation, said he’s judging its impact on the reactions of young people who come to check it out.
“Everybody’s happy that something like this is happening,” he said. “You could look it on Tumbler or the internet all day, but to actually see this pop up in field in your neighborhood, it may just jump start a kid’s mind.”

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