JOY! Observations about Play & Coming Together

This past weekend has been one brilliant ride. I write this post with a face that is red & a bit sore from the winds we endured for hours in setting up, playing, and then clearing up. Despite the volatile weather – over 350 people turned up. People laughed, screeched, ran around for hours, had fun, made lots of things, gave ideas, told us stories & concerns, and met new people and had new experiences. And many stayed for the whole afternoon – which was amazing and even unexpected.

Today I’m feeling very tired, and still a bit overwhelmed from holding it all together – a throat still sore & hoarse from talking to so many people, but I do think Arty Party in the Park was a “success”. Even today, as I met with other councillor friends in the ward next door, one of my residents working on the bar congratulated me on how much she had a great day yesterday and how packed it was. It’s kinda wild getting recognized out and about, and in a positive way.

Now I have millions of post it notes, drawings, collages, and photos of 3D sculptures to interpret and curate together. And I can’t wait to see what Raj Media has done for us after capturing the whole 3.5 hours on film. Whilst there’s some practical stuff to take away from this day, I couldn’t help but notice a lot of things from the many conversations I had, what the artists reflected back, and the observations I had when setting up and cleaning up.

One of the questions I kept getting asked was (along the lines of!), “it’s great that you put on these like festival events – but why do you do it like this? as it must take much more work?”

And they’re not wrong. It does take LOADS more work than saying, “hey! let’s meet at the library and sit in a quiet space and let me harvest your ideas/experiences in a 1.5 hour time slot.”

In our Power of Place class last week, we were talking about the difference between Vitality and Viability, and their relationships together and to people and place. We had to, in a random pair, talk about vitality and viability in places that we know. Luckily I got paired with an awesome Donx person who I have worked with before, so we both knew exactly the places that we were talking about.

Before I started doing this course, I knew that we were missing some vitality- some energy- around my area. I had tried and tracked patterns, inefficiently. Even though I wasn’t aware that’s what I was doing. I was looking for patterns/things/issues that might explain why we were doing the things we were doing. Or rather not doing things. Why was my casework & issues way different from my friends in Roman Ridge? For example? There’s only a field that separates us after all, and that’s it. But it’s a HUGE difference in the type of work and demand on us as councillors that we get (I get way more complex, life changing, social infrastructure issue stuff). I thought a lot about the Inverse Care Law, but applying it across community/civic as well as health care.

As an artist/designer – I know that making something “an event” is powerful. It’s about giving – and not just taking. This is important to note when we are asking people to give us their time and trust us. Time is one of our most valuable things that we own, not everyone has the luxury of using it how they’d like. So when we do “an event” – it means the people coming get more than just a cup of tea. And you’re way more likely to get people come to you.

But it’s also about doing these things where it gives an injection of “ALIVENESS” and keeping that aliveness going. Whether that’s the Pizza Party, the Arty Party!, Our future Library take over, community gardens designing to tree planting and lessons and more. It’s this keep coming together that makes people feel more alive themselves. It’s showing people that our ideas and dreams are viable. Doing it across things/different areas and places helps people link spaces, ideas, places together. And builds the capacity for on-going regeneration into it.

This very playful arty way of organizing helps the communities begin to unravel our perspectives/ideas/experiences on everything from social dynamics, identity, public space, and see these patterns for themselves.

I was really lucky that we got the Moving Museum by Doncaster Library & Museums on the day. I met Doncaster Heritage at the Health & Wellbeing Board where they said they’d like to get more engagement and visitors in Adwick/Woodlands. Of course I was like HIIIIII! At the Arty Party, they ended up having to make like 300 badges ha! They worked like troopers. But what a brilliant opportunity to showcase their services and offer, in that environment. Again, it’s about placing things with energy and not being stand alone.

I saw that we don’t need physical embedded infrastructure to have fun and make play. In fact, the artists spaces and the pop up stuff like swing ball, making cardboard sculptures, writing on the floor with chalk and lego were some of the most attractive. Even dogs loved swing ball!

Our data from the day ended up mirroring – almost like for like the research from Make Space for Girls. There was a gender difference in what was made, drawn, played with and requested. Older kids and girls love swings and want more swings. They also want spaces away from the small kids, and the parents of small kids want the older kids to not be on the same equipment.

When we were setting up, older boy kids came into the playground – loved making loads of noise on the chain bridge and basically played tagg around the playground. They basically don’t need play equipment but obstacle courses and climbing walls and parkour stuff. When people started to arrive, they quickly jumped ship. They later came back as we started winding down – and eventually took over the whole playground and area – loads of 13/14/15 yr olds – just as the sun was setting. Long after the kids & parents had gone home.

Again, they didn’t play on the equipment except making noise on the bridge and swings. But loved the objects we hadn’t got to yet to pack up. Others climbed the walls surrounding the park. Again – only reinforcing the need to have more stimulating and physically demanding structures to explore other than walls and roofs of buildings they shouldn’t be on.

Whilst all this was happening, my friend’s wind tent was still up, and the girls went in there to chat and hang out. In the park. One thing that came up loads from girls was wanting tree houses – there’s something about the physicality of space but that’s not one of those horrible ex-band stand style structures that councils love. There is something about the design and material of things we use that reinforces behaviour in people. No one tried to do anything wrong to the gentle fabric of a tent.

Accessibility and sensory things were the HUGE topic. Again, things that aren’t necessary play equipment which people love or don’t think as a play tool – was water. Sprinklers/water fountains. This can be easily seen outside the Civic Building, in town, where if the sun shines (even if its cold!) or when it’s hot (even if its cloudy) people – of all ages! including adults, will run through the fountains. This is a type of play. And it’s important.

Seating! It doesn’t matter who you are – seating is important. But it doesn’t need to be benches, or not benches as we know it. It can be deck chairs! Lounge chairs? hammocks, tree swing seats, picnic benches, seating that’s built into play equipment or the walls. But more of it.

To me, ‘art’ and ‘community’ and ‘councillor’ and ‘play’ are natural bedfellows as both are processes by which we make sense of the world.  Play is an inherently political act because – like public or participatory practices – such practices are never too far away from questions of power, authority or a way to imagine a different world. It is this fact that I always wonder if our chronic under investment in play spaces and space for play is in part to un-sharpen our want to be part of or critical engagement in democratic participation.

One of the artists/designers/play specialists/stirrer who we were super lucky to get to run her amazing spaces and conversations – Emma Bearman – asks the best questions about play and life and politics. It is these parts that sit so close together.

As I look to help my community see, feel, hear itself again, and slowly give us all the skills to build a regenerative vision for us here. There’s no coincidence that the artworld has been using play as a theme a lot in its exhibitions, as noted by amazing artist Anthony Shrag, and that’s probably in response to us all needing to have space to breathe, to be, to not care, to not be productive, to be with one another, to help us become more hopeful or involved again.

To quote Anthony Shrag paraphrasing the artist David Sherry, while play is most certainly a piece of nonsense, it is also most definitely a serious piece of nonsense that is worthy of exploration.

(brilliant journal edition on Public art and play:

And that’s what Arty Party in the Park was about. It was both consultation, idea making, appricative inquiry, but also just about re-falling back in love with space and doing nonsense. But it is that nonsense that somehow makes the most sense and helps to make some space for us to truly BE, our authentic selves. Connect with story, earth and self. To experience PURE JOY.

A massive HUGE thanks to everyone, especially all of the artists/designers who came and did their magic, who helped to make this happen. Team work makes the dream work!

Keep it locked here as we figure out what’s next and an exhibition.


Published by smizz

Artist → Re-evaluating life→ Rad Oncology graduate + public health worker→ @lab4living PhD-er → Want 2 make a positive difference → Rule-Breaker → LIVE DRAWZ! → councillor! → Loves cities → rides fixie → adventures → wanna be ramen master → <3 Tokyo + NYC

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