It's Alive! It's Alive!

FrankenToyMobile Sparks Imaginations and Supercharges Creativity

By Amanda Cleary Eastep
Franken Toy Mobile

The child takes scissors to the neck of the stuffed bear. Head now separated from fluffy body, the deconstructed bedtime buddy lies in pieces on the workshop table. Mental wheels spinning, the child scans myriad containers of googly eyes, pipe cleaners, and long-forgotten toy parts to attach to his reimagined creature.

With the encouragement of the FrankenToyMobile, the brainchild of Andrés Lemus-Spont (ARCH ’11) and Marya Spont-Lemus, youthful Frankensteins across Chicago eagerly gather around the mobile maker space to give new life to donated and discarded toys. Set up on a customized bicycle—a bit of a Frankenstein itself—the pedal-powered laboratory encourages imagination, curiosity, and creative reuse through free workshops in underinvested Chicago neighborhoods.

Lemus-Spont, a designer, fabricator, and teaching artist, and Spont-Lemus, the community arts program manager for the University of Chicago Charter School, launched the FrankenToyMobile in 2015. Since then, they have served more than 2,400 participants through workshops in public spaces around Chicago, with a focus on the South Side and Southwest Side.

The project recently received a grant from the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events to support the curation of a future interactive exhibition of similar, artist-run mobile maker spaces that democratize opportunities for creation.

“The process challenges ideas, especially about gender-specific toys,” says Lemus-Spont.

Franken Toy Mobile
Franken Toy Mobile

During his time at Illinois Tech, Lemus-Spont, and Lulu Al-Awadhi (ARCH ’11) developed a project that served as a precursor to the FrankenToyMobile. Under the guidance of Studio Associate Professor Paul Pettigrew, the duo designed and built Two Bikes and a Trailer, which brought “spontaneous music-making to public spaces.”

Another Illinois Tech friend and alumnus joined Lemus-Spont in the FrankenToyMobile venture. Louis Fernandez (ARCH ’11), an architect now working in New York City, along with Michael Pecirno, a design strategist in London, served as long-distance collaborators. An avid cyclist, Fernandez helped design the bicycle-turned-mobile maker space.

“The FrankenToyMobile strengthens the sense that children have power to affect their world and challenge the narratives they are handed or surrounded by, all through the unassuming activity of breaking and recombining toys,” says Fernandez.

Other alumni and local high school students join in the Franken-fun, too. Teen helpers work alongside the children to guide and encourage. Some are alumni of the Illinois Tech Global Leaders Program, a two-year academic enrichment program for Chicago-area high school students. Spont-Lemus was the founding director of the program from 2011 to 2013.

Jesse Pazmiño (ARCH ’15), a graphic designer at an architecture firm in Chicago, aids young makers by operating the more heavy-duty equipment involved in creature creation, namely, hot glue guns and power drills.

“Because there are no expectations involved in creating a FrankenToy, some people feel intimidated,” says Pazmiño. “It is fun to encourage both kids and adults to come up with their own agenda for creating a toy. The process is extremely empowering.”