Harlem Collab And Interview With Artist Hebru Brantley, Brotherhood Sister Sol, And LEGO On Their 90th Anniversary

August 11, 2022

Check out the new cool collaboration in West Harlem between celebrated artist Hebru Brantley – famous for the Flyboy sculpture.

The which currently resides in Battery Park and other cities across the country, (and most recently, an Adidas collab

The LEGO Group and the kids of BroSis. Together they will bring the imagination of the children of BroSis and Hebru to life in a chic play installation which was unveiled on August 10th which is the LEGO Group’s 90th anniversary and is called World Play Day.  

The narrative behind Hebru’s work is the possibility of traveling to other worlds and stems from real children’s imaginations – especially those in marginalized communities.

The resulting work of art, this play installation, called Fly Away Isles, is truly an inspiration in an area that could benefit most – and everyone can actually play on it. The public can enjoy it until November 5th, 2022.

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Fly Away Isles was unveiled on Wednesday, August 10th , 2022, at The Brotherhood Sister Sol in West Harlem with local Representative Adriano Espaillat who was on-site to give an official welcome to the neighborhood. 

This kind of collaboration is what the kids need especially from artists like Hebru integrated the kids into the design, and creation.

The interview:

Harlem World Magazine: We love the concept for the project, who came up with the idea of bringing this great team together (BroSis, Hebru, and LEGO)? 

Brotherhood Sister Sol: Fly Away Isles is a joyful new play installation for the West Harlem community that was inspired by the playful, optimistic imaginations of local children at The Brotherhood Sister Sol and brought to life by celebrated artist, Hebru Brantley and the LEGO Group to mark the company’s 90th Anniversary. 

In the anniversary year, new research from the LEGO Group found that a third of parents (29%) in the U.S. say they don’t play enough as a family, with 82% of those children living in New York wishing for more play. So, we turned to some of the most creative minds in the community – children – and Hebru to help us bring more play to the West Harlem community.  

The new play installation is being unveiled as part of our 90th-anniversary celebrations which we are marking with our first ever World Play Day, a day dedicated to helping children, families, and communities around the world find a moment of playful joy in their day. 

HWM: What is your goal for the project? Can you tell us more about the title Fly Away Isles? What has been the secret sauce to your success?  

BroSis: Our ambition with Fly Away Isles is to create a space that inspires the West Harlem community – children, families, and people of all ages – to take some time out of their busy days to play and experience the joy it brings. We know that play is fundamental to the well-being and happiness of the whole family – it has the power to change lives and brings us closer together, but in today’s busy world, families are finding it hard to prioritize it. We want to help make play easier for them to come by.  

The name ‘Fly Away Isles’ was chosen because it captures the sense of exploration and adventure that Brantley wanted people to feel when exploring space.  It describes the feeling of a being in a ‘far away land’ that could be anywhere – inspiring people to dream and immerse themselves in imaginary stories that aren’t tied to the realities of the world around us. 

The secret behind Fly Away Isles is that it was inspired by the boundless imagination of kids. Earlier this year, Brantley and the LEGO Group met with children from the inspiring non-profit youth development organization The Brotherhood Sister Sol and asked them to share their ideas for making their community more playful. The children were given LEGO® bricks which they used to build, rebuild and unbuild their vision of a more playful West Harlem. The workshops created a massive canvas of imagination, which Brantley took as the inspiration for his own sketches, turning them into 3D designs, and finally into the space you see today.  

HWM: Did the concept for the project come completely from Hebru or was this a team effort? Will the piece be online? 

BroSis: The design of Fly Away Isles was inspired by ideas from local children at The Brotherhood Sister Sol but brought to life by Brantley and the LEGO Group. The result is an amazing, joyful celebration of the endless imagination and optimism of children that we hope inspires the whole community to play.   

HWM: The installation is interactive, and the public can play there until November 2022, can you tell us more about that? 

BroSis: From a rocket soaring through clouds to pyramids inspired by volcanos and stepping-stones that transport visitors between colorful islands, the new accessible, inclusive, and creative space takes visitors on a cosmic journey as they come together to experience the joy of seeing the world through the eyes of children. It will be open until November 5, 2022, in the Johnny Hartman Plaza. 

As well as a range of exciting play activities, the installation includes Brantley’s first mural in New York, adding to his celebrated work that lights up the streets of Chicago and other cities across the country. This will be at the Johnny Hartman Plaza until July 2023 in partnership with the NYC Department of Transportation’s Art Program, so we hope it makes the community smile as they walk by. 

HWM: Art seems to be a theme, why does BroSis use this theme (if that’s true)? 

BroSis: We wanted the children from The Brotherhood Sister Sol to let their creativity run wild as they showed us how they would turn the Johnny Hartman Plaza into a fun, playful space for people of all ages to enjoy. But we turned to visionary artist Hebru Brantley to bring their ideas to life and translate their ideas into a reality.  

Known for his vibrant use of color, Brantley uses a playful artistic approach to address important themes around nostalgia, power, and hope in his work. He often challenges the viewer to see the world through the eyes of others and uses the adventures of his characters to explore how the world can be reimagined for the better. His own work is inspired by his childhood experiences, so it felt fitting that he helped us translate the children’s dreams.   

HWM: We understand the congressperson will welcome everyone; will he be creating some art also? Can you talk more about his attendance? 

BroSis: Congressman Adriano Espaillat, New York State Senator Robert Jackson, and New York State Assemblyman Al Taylor will attend the press preview to officially welcome Fly Away Isles to the neighborhood. At the community event, there will be various LEGO building activities so children and guests can express their own creativity.  

HWM: Happy birthday LEGO! This year is LEGO’s 90th Anniversary, you were a small business in the early days, how did a privately held company from Billund become the company you are today? 

BroSis: The LEGO Group had a humble beginning, starting in a small carpenter’s workshop in Denmark in 1932, before becoming one of the most beloved toy brands in the world. LEGO play has evolved through the decades, from wooden toys to iconic bricks, and into digital experiences based around the LEGO brick and our products are now sold in more than 130 countries worldwide. Yet the LEGO Group remains a family-owned company headquartered in Billund, Denmark, and one thing remains at the heart of everything we do: develop playful experiences that inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow. 

HWM: There’s a lot of work to be done in communities like Harlem and all the Harlems of the world (we always say Harlem to Harare). Why is it essential to work with kids and inspire them to imagine? 

BroSis: Ninety years ago, a Danish carpenter Ole Kirk Kristiansen crafted a line of small wooden toys in his Billund, Denmark, workshop. His first collection had a modest 36 items that included cars, airplanes, and yoyos, all carefully crafted to help local children learn about the world. 

Throughout time, Ole’s passion for fun and high-quality toys has endured as his legacy. In fact, the “LEGO” name comes from two Danish words “Leg Godt,” meaning “Play Well” because even ninety years ago, Ole understood the power of play to help children learn vital skills and prepare them for the future.  

New research confirms what Ole believed. For the 2022 LEGO Play Well Study, the company polled more than 55,000 parents and children in over 30 countries and found that almost all parents think children strengthen their creativity (93%), communication (92%), problem-solving skills (92%), and confidence (91%) while they play. When children play, they develop skills that help them thrive in a rapidly changing world. 

And importantly, play helps unlock a child’s imagination and creativity. It helps children dream of a better world while also giving them the skills to create that world and thrive in it. 

HWM: We know that The Brotherhood Sister Sol is also based in Harlem. Can you share more about the organization and what led to the partnership? 

BroSis: For more than 25 years, The Brotherhood Sister Sol (BroSis) has been at the forefront of social justice, educating, organizing, and training to challenge inequity and champion opportunity for all. BroSis is unique in that they are locally based with a national reach as they serve young people of color and help give them the skills to become successful in their communities.  

Additionally, the installation and mural will live at the Johnny Hartman Plaza, right outside of the organization’s office. With BroSis in the midst of their Summer Camps for the local children, this was a natural fit and fun way to engage with the neighborhood! 

Teaming with BroSis for this kind of installation will mean a lot to the kids and the West Harlem community.  

Photo credit: 1-7) Lego.

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