Play and Art in Boston, 2015 #playday #LawnonD

For the last year, installations of playful art at the Lawn on D have been killing it.

The digitally lyrical Swing Time, the  chromatic immersion of Pentalum, and most recently the giant inflatable bunnies by Australian artist Amanda Parer have drawn multi-generational crowds into a bleak convention district to smile and dance and laugh; and at the same time completely transformed the public art conversation in Boston.

This past weekend, the inimitable team of Chris Wangro and his co-conspirators at Industria Creative extended the public art spectrum from play-ful to full-on play-able (revelers running at full-tilt into the inflatable bunnies don’t properly count), with Boston’s first Play-Day. The Lawn on D bills itself as a ‘Lab for Art’, and on Saturday it became a ‘Lab for Play’; testing installation concepts and playful interactivity with mash-ups of hopscotch and drawing, lounge furniture and bouncy balls, traffic cones and pool noodles, tubes and tapes, light and sound.  Inside the cloud of a graffitied white parachute, strangers were instantly friends.  And it was grand.

Since I started writing about spaces for play seven years ago my interests have broadened significantly, from initial concerns over ugly and boring permanent playgrounds (those are now improving)  to a desire to understand the wider connections between play and art and place and people.

If you’re at all engaged with making or planning a space for play, I hope you’re keenly aware that you have the opportunity to create a space for community, using the medium of play.   Doing that well requires thinking beyond the installation of ‘stuff’, and it is a task that doesn’t end with construction.  Play-makers need to think deeply about programming playable space.

You don’t have to have the Lawn’s budget.  What if you invited your community to reimagine the playground nearest you by covering it with that simplest of inflatables:  the balloon?  Or added sails of stretch fabric inspired by Virginia Melnyk’s Sail Boxes?  How fun would it be for the kids to wrap the entire structure in a plastic tape tangle?  Or add LEDs to the swings, just for an evening?

How do we design playgrounds so that they’re flexible and stageable for temporary design interventions and new kinds of play?  How do we ensure that public spaces for play are made for people to be together, not just sitting apart on a loose collection of park benches facing a pile of plastic equipment?

Take a lesson from the Lawn on D about the power of spectacle, the need for humor (playgrounds are often strangely devoid of humor) and the way time-limited, temporary installations keep drawing people outside of their private spaces to participate in community because they know that something in the public space will be fresh and new and fun.   That’s what I’ve learned from the Lawn on D.

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