Hebru Brantley Lego Play Installation Harlem


Joe Chea

LEGO is celebrating 90 years of fun with a new installation, dreamt and designed by Black and Latinx kids in collaboration with celebrated artist, Hebru Brantley, for the community of Harlem.

Crafted in collaboration with The Brotherhood Sister Sol, or BroSis as it is affectionately called, “Fly Away Isles” is both an art installation and a fun play space for children of all ages. Located at 140 Hamilton Place in Harlem, NY, just around the corner from BroSis’s Harlem headquarters, the installation began as a brainstorming and LEGO-building session between BroSis’ kids and grew into a reality they can see and feel in real life.

Hebru Brantley Lego Play Installation Harlem
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – AUGUST 10: The LEGO Group, Hebru Brantley and Local Children unveil new play installation in West Harlem at Brotherhood Sister Sol on August 10, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for The LEGO Group)

ESSENCE stopped by the grand opening of the play installation in Harlem’s Hamilton Heights neighborhood on August 10. As the kids officially broke in their new play space as only children can, we caught up with Jason Warwin, co-founder of The Brotherhood Sister Sol, Hebru Brantley, visionary artist and co-designer of “Fly Away Isles,” and Alero Akyua, VP of Global Brand, The LEGO Group about the process of commemorating 90 years of play with a space made by and for the youth of this community.

With over 20 years of experience with the children of Harlem, Warwin says the project was a perfect extension of their ongoing mission to empower Black and Latinx youth. The kids got to see their creativity go from idea to reality in real-time, building their ideal playground and having an artist translate the vision.

“They built with LEGOs to create their vision of what a play space would look like,” Warwin said of the project. “This is their vision come to life. I think for young people, that’s a really inspirational thing. To design something and actually see it manifest, that’s a lifeline that shows them that through hard work and dedication, you can make your visions real.”

Hebru Brantley Lego Play Installation Harlem

The space features shapes and clouds and bounce pads primed for play on which kids can climb, jump, and spin, punctuated by a colorful mural decorating the street below.

Visionary artist Hebru Brantley, perhaps most famous for his ‘FlyBoy’ and ‘Lil Mama’ characters inspired by African American fighter pilots, took on the job of making the kids of Harlem’s dreams a reality. Taking the designs they crafted with LEGO building blocks, he added his own signature colorful flair to make a play space that incorporated some of their out-of-this-world ideas into a playground they can touch and interact with.

“I get as much inspiration from them as I hope they get from me,” Brantley said of working with the children of BroSis on this project. “It’s a chance to be a kid again, and I relish in those opportunities. I’m an artist, so most of my time is spent one space, just creating. Any time I can get out and kind of steal some of this youthful energy, this playful energy, this creative energy is great.”

“Everything that’s here today started with them,” Brantley continued. “[Seeing them play] is the most rewarding part.”

Hebru Brantley Lego Play Installation Harlem

For Akuya, speaking on behalf of the LEGO brand, the vision of kids literally playing on their dreams come true is all the project wished to achieve from its conception.

“We were thinking, it’s our 90th anniversary. How do we celebrate it in a way that’s fun and authentic to communities?” she said. “This relationship (with BroSis) has been ongoing for quite a few years. So we thought ‘hey, why don’t we partner with them?’ We gave them hundreds of LEGO bricks and asked ‘how would you make your neighborhood more playful?’”

This resulted in ideas ranging from rocket launch pads, friendly snakes, and volcanoes, all translated through Brantley’s vision into a 3-D reality the kids can feel responsible for ideating.

Hebru Brantley Lego Play Installation Harlem

“All we want to do as a brand is fuel imagination. But it’s not just about getting kids to dream. We want their dreams to be a reality and turn into action. We felt that the workshop was so important for the kids to not only come with their ideas, build their ideas, but see how it could actually come to life, and how their actions, dreams, and visions can create change and manifest in the real world.”

“Fly Away Isles” will remain open to the public through November 5 2022, with the street mural on display through July 2023.

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