Big Haul of Art and Confidence

A tricked-out 18-wheeler sets up workshops at Bridgehampton camp
The motto of their family business is “Keep on Truckin’ ” and that’s just what Jeff Mayer, Angela De Vincenzo, and their son, Luca, plan to do with Big Mama, their rolling alternative workspace for kids. Carissa Katz

Luca Mayer became something of a celebrity around the Hayground Camp this summer, and it’s easy to see why.

Sure, there were campers with pools, trampolines, horses, even state-of-the-art home theaters, but the perky and personable 5-year-old was probably the only one with his very own 18-wheeled big rig, and he got to call it home all summer.

The truck, a 1981 Kenworth semi with a 70-foot trailer tricked out for children’s art and block workshops, has been parked since early July on the Hayground campus in Bridgehampton. There, Luca’s parents, Jeff Mayer and Angela De Vincenzo, worked with Hayground campers during the day and others after camp hours and on weekends on art, block-building projects, D.J.ing, and BMX skills. The truck, which they call Big Mama, was summer residence, portable classroom, and icebreaker extraordinaire.

The big yellow and black cab with a double bunk bed and the cool long trailer stretching behind it beg for a closer look, and then the questions start flowing. “Trucks and kids are a classic love story that will never go out of fashion,” Ms. De Vincenzo said.

Luca is, of course, an expert on all things Big Mama and is especially happy to show off his sleeping bunk in the cab, climbing deftly up the short ladder and hopping in like a pro. The truck itself, but also his role as ambassador for his parents’ work in it, has been a tremendous boost to his confidence, Mr. Mayer said last week.

Born with a cleft palate, “speech development was difficult for him,” Ms. De Vincenzo wrote, but he always managed to get his point across where trucks were concerned. Seeing his enthusiasm for trucks of all sorts in their Brooklyn neighborhood and how that fueled his speech development and language skills, the couple eventually bought one of their own and hatched a plan to combine her background as a learning specialist and his as a designer, D.J., and former B.M.X. pro with the truck’s innate ability to excite and inspire kids.

They’ve noticed that when kids are passionate about something, they blossom in other ways, too, just as Luca has. Their motto, painted in big letters on the side of the trailer, is “Keep on Truckin’.”

“It tells the kids to never give up on any roadblock or thing that comes across their paths,” Ms. De Vincenzo said. “We talk about what big trucks do and how strong they are, and we parallel that with our ideas and thoughts.”

This spring Adam Stennett, an artist friend from Brooklyn who has shown on the East End and who worked with Mr. Mayer at Rockstar Games, suggested they contact the Hayground Camp’s director, Jon Snow, about a summer residency. When he said yes, they went trailer shopping.

Mr. Mayer remade the interior of the Kentucky moving trailer with a Brooklyn-cool-meets-South-Fork-beachy vibe. There’s a lounge area in the front with a leather couch, records, and a turntable. An art and block-building space fills the back two-thirds. The trailer opens on three sides to catch the breeze off the fields even on the hottest days. The walls, ceiling, and floor are white, and there is children’s artwork everywhere mixed in with Luca718 merchandise designed by Mr. Mayer. Luca718 is also the name they’ve given to the whole operation, which Ms. De Vincenzo described as “an alternative workspace for kids.”

Originally, the family was going to be in Bridgehampton only through July, “but it was such a hit” that the camp director asked them to stay on through August and to return next summer.

With camp coming to an end, Big Mama will be available for private events like birthday parties and other gatherings at select times through mid-September, all to help fund Luca718’s continuing journeys. Information can be found online at luca718.com.

Visitors to the Hayground School’s farmers market tomorrow from 3 p.m. can take a look inside and get an idea of what the team has been up to this summer.

For the two months of Luca718’s residency, Hayground campers could elect to spend a portion of their mornings building with blocks with Ms. De Vincenzo or making art with Mr. Stennett or Mr. Mayer. Mr. Mayer also gave BMX and D.J. lessons and worked with campers to create a BMX course on the Hayground campus. He kept the records spinning in the background as the kids worked, providing a mellow soundtrack to keep their creative juices flowing.

In the afternoons and on Saturdays, the team opened their Blocks, Trucks + Art workshops to kids not enrolled at the Hayground Camp.

Block building is a deceptively simple exercise, Ms. De Vincenzo said last week after getting a group of campers started on a project. “It gives children time to work together. They develop leadership skills, critical thinking, problem solving, the grit that you need in the future of knowledge and the future of our economy. They get time to think and play, and we’re proving and empowering that that’s children’s work.”

As they build, either together or on their own, “they share ideas, express their interests.” The building and the other work they do on Big Mama offer “a multisensory experience for them to express what they know to be true about the world around them,” she said.

Ms. De Vincenzo works at the Packer Collegiate Institute, an independent prekindergarten-through-12th-grade school in Brooklyn Heights. She said she learned how to teach at City and Country School, whose founder, Caroline Pratt, developed wooden unit blocks as an education tool. She saw “the importance of block work and open-ended work for children,” Ms. De Vincenzo explained. That’s a lesson that underlies what she and her team did this summer on Big Mama’s maiden voyage.

At Hayground they have test-driven their new business, seen how kids and adults react to the truck, and now “We have ideas for 10 different trailers,” Mr. Mayer said. He has worked with kids for only a few months, but he seems to have found his calling. “It feels so natural. I feel like I’ve been doing it my whole life.”

“Our vision going forward is to take this rig to schools and communities that perhaps don’t have this rich art program,” Ms. De Vincenzo said. They hope Luca718 can grow into a nonprofit arts education platform that can travel the country. “We could go to places where they can afford us and match it with a school that has no money. . . . I see this morphing to the places we go.”

In its short time at Hayground, Big Mama has shown them new avenues to make their venture a sustainable one. “We’ve done everything from kids birthday parties to a 20-plate dinner for adults,” Mr. Mayer said. People of all ages seem to be intrigued with the concept, and that enthusiasm is giving the couple the proverbial fuel to continue their journey.

“We knew that this would open things up for us in a different way and shift our thinking,” Ms. De Vincenzo said of their summer in Bridgehampton. “It’s been a glorious experience.”

The couple bought the cab first, and found the trailer this spring after the Hayground Camp agreed to their summer residency. Carissa Katz
The family has slept in the cab this summer, just like long-haul truckers. Luca Mayer showed off the top bunk.Carissa Katz
The 70-foot trailer opens on three sides to let the breeze pass through during workshops.Carissa Katz