A Playground for the Rest of Us
This is the part of the San Francisco Bay Area that I’m most familiar with:
The Athletic Playground is a movement studio focused on the “monkey arts”: Handstands, aerial silks, trapeze, parkour, acroyoga, flexibility, tango… you name it. These classes are primarily for adults, with some “mini monkey” classes targeted towards children.
I was doing research on movement or play-based non-profits, my eventual business goal, when I learned about the Athletic Playground through the internet. Deciding immediately that I had to see what it was really like there, I petitioned the Social Innovation/Social Entrepreneurship department at Tulane University to award me the Changemaker Catalyst Award in order to do so. According to my initial plea, it sounded something like this:
I must investigate this program firsthand; this is the single best training I could give myself at this time. I have already made contact with one of the founders of this program, and she has invited me to come see what they do. There are four categories of research that a site visit to the Athletic Playground will allow me to investigate:
1) Business model: Are they self-sufficient? How do tuitions and salaries get realized?
2) Classes: How do the classes work in practice? How many students per class, and what kind of training/credentialing do the instructors have?
3) Environment: What makes the Athletic Playground function? How are the community events received locally? What works for them, and what could eventually be incorporated into the Acrodemics model? How do they manage to serve a population where more than 80% of high school students live below the poverty level?
4) Unknown: What do I not know? (This may be the most important category of my research.) What is only discernable through a site visit? What is unknown to me to even ask, which I will discover along the way?
So, to recap, last year I successfully convinced some kind people at Tulane that they should give me money to fly cross-country to the Bay Area and take classes at the Athletic Playground for a week. (I still can’t believe that worked.) I flew up mid-June of 2016 and did just that- stayed at a friend’s parent’s home and took as many classes as I could fit in that week.
Now, almost exactly one year later, I got to stop by this community again for a day and a half- enough time to take two classes and one session of open play.
This place is so special. There’s nothing like it anywhere I’ve been. It’s a studio, playspace, gym, movement workshop, and purpose-designed playground that has fostered a community of movers and shakers, literally. One of the classes is called “monkey conditioning.” I have been welcomed with smiles, hugs, laughter, and an easy warmth that permeates the whole double warehouse. Part of this kindness is intentional. Unlike a typical gym space, macho one-upmanship is not tolerated. Neither is shirtlessness. Both rules designed to make everyone feel comfortable in a space specifically catering to play.
Athletic Playground is located in Emeryville, CA, about halfway between Oakland and Berkeley. Emeryville’s median household income is $69,274 and the median age is 33.5, according to the its official website. Over 50% of its residents have a college education. So, yeah. Although 14.3% of its residence earn income below the poverty level, you wouldn’t necessarily know it. (This is significantly less than California’s average of 20.2% of residents below the poverty line.) Directly across the street from AP is a public K-12 school that looks like this:
…with a statue of the Buddha in the courtyard.
Also, there’s a bilingual school.
Also, there’s another bilingual school.
Yes, those are three different schools, all moneyed, all within a three-block radius of AP.
AP isn’t cheap. A drop-in class will run you $25. The packages make that number a bit better, but it’s not designed to be accessible for people without disposable income. This was kind of a shock to me- my vision is to make movement classes, specifically acroyoga, accessible to underserved populations. AP, in contrast, is a for-profit enterprise with a niche audience. When I spoke to the CFO last year, he told me they are working on a limited scholarship program. But their goal, perhaps because of the significantly affluent location, is not primarily focused on bringing their services to the poor.
Maybe they don’t need to. There’s enough money floating around Emeryville, Oakland, and Berkeley that their services are accessible to most of the population.
Andy reminds me that businesses need to have priorities. AP’s priorities include paying its teachers fair wages, and offering roughly a billion classes each week.
Acrodemics, the name of my program, is to be specifically designed to be accessible to underserved populations, specifically school kids ages 6-18. When I set up in a brick-and-mortar, my financials will look very different from the Athletic Playground. Presumably, so will my operations.
“If it’s inaccessible to the poor, it is neither radical nor revolutionary”
Neither radical nor revolutionary is my goal with Acrodemics. Ok, well, maybe revolutionary. Therefore, I hereby proclaim my intent to make movement classes accessible to underserved populations- whatever that means.
Mo-ratorium (or, In Me-Mo-ry) (or, Mo-mento Mo-ri)
Our four cactuses, all named Mo, have died.
It is a sad day.
Our poor succulent friends have left us and ascended to another plane, probably with more shade and less heat.
Today is the day where we apologize to each and every Mo for not realizing that succulents aren’t the same thing as cactuses- and the day where we recognize our presumptions that cactuses could survive the unrelenting +120° heat of the car. Well, maybe we should do some research on cactuses. Or just buy a couple more and hope they don’t go the way of the Mo. Yeah, that’s probably what we’ll do.
Big Mo, Maurice, Little Mo, and Mo-mo, you will be missed. Especially by Mr. Why, who doesn’t quite understand why he had to stand in a graveyard for 3 weeks.