As he outlined a Sonic character on a piece of paper, Sophocles Plokamakis instructed children to view its body parts in terms of different shapes before sketching it out.
“The head is tricky, right?” Plokamakis, a cartoonist and animator, said during the Friday afternoon class. “But all you’ve got to do is break it down into shapes. This is an arm, but I see a circle and an oval. And just think — every time you make a mistake, you get better. The more mistakes you make, the better you get.”
The hour-long cartooning class took place at Playday, an art space for children in Long Island City. Located on 51st Avenue, Playday offers drop-in classes such as origami, textile arts, sticker craze, rock ‘n’ roll posters and finger knitting. Sessions are offered seven days a week and include “Grown Up & Me” options for toddlers as well as drop-off classes for older children.
Playday was founded by Gregory Okshteyn, a father of two who has lived in Long Island City for 16 years. His children attend the local public school, where he said they are thriving but receive very little art education.
“They are teaching creativity through math and writing, which is great, but the kids are not working with their hands. They are not problem-solving and socializing the way we did when we grew up,” said Okshteyn, a Ukraine-born architect who grew up in a family of artists. “So that’s what Playday is about — connecting our little ones with art. My daughter recently hand-knitted a 3-foot scarf in class and said, ‘This is the first thing I made I can actually use,’ and I said, ‘Oh my God, this is exactly what the instinct behind this [business] was.’”
Okshteyn lives across the street from Playday; he can see it from his apartment and home office. When he saw the space empty after the previous tenant moved out, he starting thinking about starting a children’s play space. On Jan. 2, Playday opened its doors, and Okshteyn said it has been well received by the community. Some classes got quickly booked; Playday’s Instagram feed drew more than 1,800 followers in the first 10 days; and by the middle of January, parents had already reserved 18 birthday parties for their little ones.
“I’m having so much fun,” he said. “This is a win-win-win situation. The instructors are happy. The children are happy. The parents are happy. We’re just getting really positive feedback.”
Long Island City resident Julz Donald said her 5-year-old daughter enjoyed several art classes and open play sessions during Playday’s opening weeks.
“My daughter loves Playday — super creative classes and great for her age given she has ‘aged out’ [of] a lot of the other classes in LIC now,” Donald said. “I also love that this is owned and run by a local artist who is super talented.”
Okshteyn said he is already exploring the possibility of opening other locations in New York, and would love to team up with local schools and daycares to ensure more children have access to art.
Okshteyn, whose firm’s clients include Jay-Z, the Kardashians and Rihanna, designed Playday himself. The 1,200-square-foot space includes a painted mural that reads, “Have fun, Be Awesome,” and a whiteboard wall where instructors and children can draw. The handicapped-accessible bathroom includes a wallpaper with birds and flowers and, with a press of a button, music.
Playday also has a gallery wall, where artists’ works are displayed and can be purchased. Okshteyn said it does not matter to him if he sells the $1,200 piece of art recently on display there; instead, he wants children to know there are many careers in the arts.
“There is nobody telling them there is value in creativity,” he said, and he wants to change that.
A number of his “Playday friends” — friends and colleagues from the art community — will use FaceTime for 5-minute “bragging sessions,” giving them an opportunity to speak remotely with children about their work. Playday also has 1,000 square feet of outdoor space, where Okshteyn hopes to have classes involving everything from bubbles and sand to archery and ping-pong. There is a multicultural component as well; for example, students taking textile classes watch a brief video about techniques used around the world.
Zoe Yates, who teaches finger knitting and embroidery, said she tries to get her students to consider which materials regularly come in contact with their bodies.
“I try to get them to think about what fabrics they are wearing,” she said. “It’s fun because it’s not like we’re in school; we’re just making art.”
Instructors helped create the class offerings, and a six-member advisory board that includes a child psychiatrist approved the curriculum. Okshteyn said there is no limit to the topics Playday can offer: the art space already has a “clouds” class, where children make clouds using cotton balls and paint; an “epic Star Wars scene” stencils class; a “monster masks” class; a “little architect” class; jewelry design; and manga Japanese drawing, to name a few. When it comes to children and the arts, the opportunities are endless.