Plotting our route up to Michigan in February, we put a call out to anyone who wanted to meet up along the way. Our friend Mischa Saunders responded with recommendations of friends we had to find in Detroit. We got in touch right away with Katharina Walsh and Bart Eddy and made plans to connect in Detroit.
After our meeting with Maria St. Goar and a phone call to Bart and Katharina, we headed towards Mary Stewart Adams up in Harbor Springs. We were so glad to catch up in the little time we had! And then headed out for the four-hour trip to Detroit (which Mary revealed has been done in three!), and we had to move quickly down the road to Detroit, where we met up with Katharina for early afternoon coffee. Time was short, as she is a young lady carrying a pretty full schedule these days with all that she is striving towards in the community of Brightmoor.
A Waldorf graduate, Katharina went all the way through the Rudolf Steiner School of Ann Arbor where her mother was a teacher. Afterwards, she headed off to England for college, where she studied art and theater. Drawn to a life of service, she spent two years in Newton Dee Camphill in Scotland. She has also spent time at the Lakota Waldorf School on the Oglala Lakota Reservation in South Dakota and has helped with a local charter school.
When Katharina first returned to the States, she connected with Riet Schumack from Holland, and the two formed a close connection. Riet is active in the Brightmoor neighborhood of Detroit, spearheading projects for new uses of urban land. Katharina worked on an audio tour garden project, Walking the Way, which featured residents of the local community talking about the land. She is interested in people’s previous thinking about land as we move into the future.
Katharina picked up a project from landscape artist, Johannes Matthiessen, who was struggling with an illness at the time. She led the Tree Dome project, which included students from the Detroit Community School where Bart Eddy teaches. Photos of the project can be seen here:
Through this work, an exchange developed between Brightmoor and China. The relationship between these communities has continued to grow, and several young woodworkers from Detroit are now preparing to travel to China to participate in a landscape design project at the China National Children’s Center.
When we met, Katharina was working on a master’s degree in social work. Detroit is a hard place to live, but she is committed to the land and the people. When Katharina was considering what she wanted to do, she knew she wanted to work in something physical and was interested in teaching and sustainability. She has created beautiful amazing work to uplift the community.
Katharina runs an after school program called Kid’s Corner Art Club out of St. Christine’s Soup Kitchen, offering drop-in art classes and also an Art in the Park initiative. Doors are open for anyone who wants to join, and she has been able to secure funding for the supplies and materials and is able to use the space for free. The program’s mission is “to encourage creativity and positive social interactions through art, craft, music and performance that nourish, uplift and empower children to cultivate their unique and rich potentials.” We had a chance to take in the neighborhood around the kitchen, but the timing was a bit off to see the program. Walking around the area, we were able to see the stark conditions in which these children and their families live in this particular community. A woman stood outside with us as we waited, and as we sought to ask a question she just stared at us as if unable to speak. Thinking she did not hear, we posed the question again, and again there was no response. It was hard to meet this silence inwardly, as there question staring us in the eye: “What has happened that has allowed this moment of a face to face meeting with no comprehension of the other?”
Katharina wants to know the reason for systemic dysfunction. She loves being with the children and wants to support them in their paths. She is grateful for her Waldorf education, but teaching in that environment is not the challenge that she wants. She is forging a new path forward, diving right into the community and bringing beauty wherever she goes moving like a river meeting each new need in a very flexible, fun, and determined way to offer something new to the young people.
Brightmoor is not gentrifying. There are 148 square miles in Detroit and 93 square acres of land in Brightmoor. This city is in the process of removing blighted homes and taking out infrastructure. Before we left, Katharina connected us to a community gathering in Brightmoor, and we were able to attend that evening. Many people from the community gathered, including Riet and Bart. Ideas had been gathered ahead of time for creative uses of the land that would be left after homes were torn down. It was inspiring to witness this community coming together— young and old, siblings and neighbors – all ready to collaborate for a brighter future. They have a wonderful form, which includes five ground rules for healthy conversation. If any of these five agreements were not being upheld, anyone could raise a hand and ask to review the agreements for the discussion.
When we asked Katharina what she needs, she said “people!” She is doing amazing work in Detroit and could use more co-workers! And onward to Bart, her fabulous coworker, she sent us! What a team! What a community! What a work! Ultimately, what a beautiful woman of initiative she is.