What are the characteristics of Playground Detroit and how did it get to where it is today?
PLAYGROUND DETROIT is a contemporary art gallery and creative talent agency dedicated to emerging artists based in Detroit, Michigan. Established in 2012, our mission is to create opportunities for artists and creative professionals to support and expand Detroit's creative economy, founded by co-owners Paulina Petkoski and Samantha Bankle Schefman.
In 2017, the gallery opened its first location at 2845 Gratiot Avenue in the McDougall-Hunt neighborhood, and opened a second retail location in the downtown business district of Detroit in 2020. Before the gallery had its own physical location, we hosted exhibitions and events at various venues throughout Detroit and New York City, which is where the company was first conceptualized before relocating to Detroit in 2015.
PLAYGROUND DETROIT was founded to showcase top artistic talent and provide artists with professional services including artwork sales, project management and special projects. Our work uplifts a diverse range of artists and inspires the next generation of talent through community partnerships and programming. We leverage creativity for good through positive impact to enhance the creative economy and vibrancy of the city.
Co-owners, Paulina Petkoski (left) and Samantha B Schefman (right) photo credit: Josh Scott
How has the artistic landscape of Detroit changed since the gallery’s conception and how do you predict it to evolve in the coming years?
Throughout the last decade of hosting exhibitions and events, the artistic landscape in Detroit has matured and gained the attention of both the press and the greater Metro Detroit area. The previous generations of street and graffiti artists paved the way for contemporary muralists. Murals and public art are ever-present and fill the buildings in the downtown area and many neighborhoods across the city.
The new guarde of Detroit artists are finding the industry attention and support that they deserve. Many artists we work with now exhibit in museums and in galleries abroad as their careers evolve outside of the close-knit scene that developed their practice.
How does the city you call home, Detroit, influence your ethos and aspirations?
Detroit is the primary inspiration for what we do. It’s a city founded on massive talent, hard work, innovation and ingenuity. There is a strong ‘DIY’ (‘do it yourself’) ethos found here; you will often hear the word ‘grit’ used to describe the people that live here. It’s a very authentic city where collaboration and community are leading the change here over the last few decades. The result of those key drivers is what people see today when they come to visit.
In its heyday, it was referred to as “The Paris of the Midwest,” and we aspire to hold that title again in the future. With all of its contemporary talent including artists, designers and musicians, as well as the opening of new restaurants, bars, venues and galleries, we hope to rival creative industries that are found in New York, Brooklyn or Los Angeles. There is plenty of space and time in Detroit which are critical components for a successful artistic practice and something that other cities do not have, in addition to increasing rent and competitive job markets.
PLAYGROUND DETROIT gallery (Exterior) photo credit: Leah Castille
What is your process of selecting artists to represent?
We work with artists that have serious talent and a unique perspective, along with personal drive and big goals that propel their creativity and career. Typically, artists we feature often host their debut solo exhibitions at the gallery, setting the trajectory for the next steps in their careers. Many of them are recent graduates from institutions such as College for Creative Studies in Detroit and Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, which both have produced many generations of artists.
Artists often approach us with exhibit ideas and we continue to seek out new talent, cultivating relationships with them early on in their practices in order to provide the guidance and connections to be most successful. In 2019, the gallery was awarded a significant grant from the Knight Foundation to facilitate a multi-year Fellowship program that awards 20 artists with $40,000 in funding to host solo exhibitions and professional mentorship. We look forward to working with the second round of ten artists throughout 2022 and beyond.
Playground Detroit has an online magazine. What motivated you to create this channel for communication? How has it impacted your online visibility?
When the platform and website was created ten years ago, it was very important for us to have an online presence and magazine. At that time the national news of the city’s bankruptcy was the overarching story in the mainstream media, so the goal of our ‘blog’ was to counterbalance this and share another side that focuses on inspiring news and local culture.
We also use it to promote and share exhibits and events programming to reach a wider audience. A decade ago social media was less widely used and Instagram just launched. The online magazine continues to be a resource for those curious about Detroit, to share information and reach people anywhere in the world.
With articles that span a decade, the magazine serves as a journal and on-going record of the amazing people and events contributing to the creative community. It is important to document these happenings, especially because unlike New York or Los Angeles, there are not many media outlets that focus on Detroit’s cultural scene.
Dream Sequence, Patrick Ethen solo exhibition, June 2021, photo credit: Leah Castile
Your core values are accessibility, community, integrity, and relationship. How do these values impact your professional initiatives? Could you provide us with precise examples or applications of these principles?
Our core values guide the long-term vision of PLAYGROUND DETROIT and how we consider our impact. It’s critical that the gallery location itself is accessible to both residents in the neighborhood as well as visitors, and is a place where the community can gather together.
Artists are integral to our business and we treat them with respect and often work alongside them as not just gallerists but as mentors and even friends and peers by establishing long-term relationships with individuals and other like-minded organizations. Unlike traditional gallery models, we consider the gallery to be a social enterprise and artists receive more than the standard 50/50 share of sales.
An example of this is a collaboration with the apparel company that produces the Detroit Hustles Harder brand; we helped to design a jacket to benefit a local non-profit organization, Downtown Boxing Gym, a free after-school academic and athletic program for Detroit students that has a 100% high school graduation rate since 2007. We selected the local artist/designer/community leader/activist, Tony Whlgn to create original artwork for a Limited Edition varsity jacket with all proceeds going to the youth program. The jacket was sold in our retail store as well.
Even young, aspiring artists that we hire to work at the gallery receive invaluable first-hand professional experience that eventually pushes them beyond their first position and helps them towards their long-term career goals to work in the arts industry.
Covid-19 has influenced a remarkable shift in the art market towards a stronger, online presence. How can online sales support galleries, especially during these trying times?
Online sales have been very important for us over the past few years, and even more so especially during the pandemic. We have now had artwork sales from collectors as far away as China and from all across the United States. The art and collector market in Detroit is not as robust as other cities such as New York or Miami, so it’s critical as a part of our mission to grow awareness about the talent here.
The idea of having an “IRL/URL” presence has always been a part of our platform. Being able to interact with collectors both online and in-person allows for an omni-channel experience that we believe is key to the future of the art world.
I Feel Like I've Been Here Before, November 2021, Bakpak Durden solo exhibition, photo credit: Samantha's List
You recently joined Artsper, what encouraged you to make this decision? And what are the main advantages that you have seen so far?
When we were recently invited to join Artsper, we were excited to be able to further connect with global and European audiences. We already know that Detroit is world-renowned for its electronic and Motown music, architecture and more- and are now ready to share its visual artists and talent.
Artsper helps to connect collectors with our artists through curated collections and themes that are unique for anyone looking for artwork in need of some extra inspiration. By having online and international partnerships, our collective network is stronger than ours alone.