It’s play time!

By     Oct 14, 2014
Co-Founder, Department of Play

Kate Balug

Hello NAS community! I have been silent since Impact House, as I got ready to get married in Poland, and then celebrated, recovered, celebrated some more - on repeat. It was beautiful! Now I'm back in the States, and preparing for an upcoming playdate of the Department of Play - with Laurelin and her MMoAA!

It's been a busy month as I finally have the chance to dive into the project at full speed. The reaction I get from people across the city has been really encouraging - as soon as I mention play, empathy, curiosity and public space people 'get it.' And want to join!

We're at a moment at which the methods and outcomes of existing democratic processes are questioned. A moment where city residents teeter on the edge of feeling empowered through participatory efforts, only to be brought back down with sharp reminders of how far we have to go until our rights are inalienable in practice. Public space has in recent years reemerged as an urban playground, with creative placemaking and related efforts bringing interactive, artful and joyful experiences. It has also been reactivated as a public forum, host to global protests both in physical and virtual spaces. The Greek agora served as both a political meeting space and marketplace – presently we consider a third space of ephemeral community building through creative, temporary interventions.

The question of the Department of Play explores is what might play in public space be able to do that other participatory efforts can't? Can it engage, build empathy and curiosity among adult urban dwellers? Can play help build a sense of agency in shaping the city in the individual as he or she practices collaboration? Can it help formulate new ways of democratic practice?

These are big questions, so we start exploring by using some guiding parameters. Play, according to historian Johan Huizinga, has classifiable tenets that include, among others: commonly agreed-upon rules, a temporary suspension of normal time into an immersive 'other' time, a sacred space (or, magic circle), and that it serves no immediately obvious purpose.

Our public play dates borrow from this framework for play, and will attempt to transport the public into a temporary play land aimed as much as adults as it is aimed at kids. More on how we do that in the next blog post!