On a rainy Sunday, the aura in the lobby of the hip Wythe Hotel in Williamsburg gives off the same brightness and warmth one would feel upon entering another Brooklyn neighborhood staple—Playground Coffee Shop. It’s the three year anniversary of the Bedstuy café and non-profit gem and they’re celebrating the occasion with the annual Playground Art Fair, for which they invited participation from vendors working in the worlds of art, design, activism, publishing, wellness and more. To enter the event, there was a suggested (but not mandated) sliding scale donation of $5-10, the funds from which will go directly towards Playground’s programming in 2020. Many of their non-profit efforts take place in the Annex, a space in the back of the shop where the Playground team holds educational workshops, events, pop-ups and a live radio show. Playground’s mission is not only to provide quality ambiance, beverages, and sustainable eats at the shop but also to foster space and resources for black and brown people of all identities. Its multidimensionality in the midst of a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood makes it a radical, service-focused haven.
“Our platform helps artists to skillshare and distribute knowledge through public engagement, grassroots activism and the arts,” Playground’s founder and owner Zenat Begum tells me. “Being a NYC-native myself, I have witnessed change that doesn’t benefit us or perpetuates a cycle of terror and erasure. Playground cultivates a space to archive stories, narratives and our history.”
Inside the fair, music from DJs including Yalla Yeehaw and Calldetroit fills both the room and airwaves as a part of Playground’s streaming and radio programming for the day. Mingling voices of guests blend in with the tunes as they converse with the twenty-four vendors about the wide range of goods and art pieces for sale. There’s everything from CBD salves and anxiety-relieving tinctures to affordable, independently-designed clothing and opal-studded gold grills. Rifat Begum, a highly motivated board member of the non-profit Playground Youth and sister to the owner, tells me that each vendor was hand-picked. “They all align with Playground’s mission of accessibility and affordability for LGBTQIA and POC communities,” she says. “With everything made by the people involved, it also promotes sustainability. These vendors are part of our community and a lot of the people you’ll see here have been a part of many of our past fairs.”
The event had an early start, at 1 PM, but as the sun goes down Playground supporters continue to file into the hotel. It’s clear that the fundraiser/fair isn’t just an event to attend, but it’s also a space for people to come and support some of their favorite creatives, artists and/or friends. Conversations with strangers feel familiar and connecting with others came with ease. Towards the end of the evening, as I’m about to head out, I see a beautiful floral station by the door and can’t resist the chance to choose a bouquet for my home. It’s run by a self-made florist and black woman, Karla Smith-Brown, who is also the owner of Olivee Floral. She’s close with the Playground crew and has lent her eye for aesthetics and floral set design to past events with the organization. I notice that as Smith-Brown makes the bouquet for me, she takes her time finding a place for every stem and petal in the bunch—ensuring that each uniquely striking element has the space to shine and bloom. It’s that kind of heartfelt intention that symbolizes the quest of Playground and its art fair.