Popping-Up on Governor’s Island

This week Sharon Unis, Erin Davis and I moved our stuff onto Governor’s Island – the site of our summer-long Pop-Up Adventure Playground.

Governor’s Island is a small, non-residential island only two minutes by ferry from Manhattan.  Free from cars and open only in the summer, it becomes a Narnia-like park for the city’s residents and visitors – here briefly, brilliantly, and then gone again.  We are there as part of the FIGMENT NYC festival’s sculpture garden, and so had the joy of driving our little van on early to get set up.

We pulled flat-pack plastic boxes, like giant Tupperware, out of the U-haul and assembled them beside our grassy spot.  Some of the other FIGMENT NYC contributors were also there setting up and the shape of the festival, and indeed the summer, was beginning to become clear.

Into one box went the fabric, the huge lengths of brightly colored jersey and the little scraps donated by the owner of a cutting room in the Garment District.

Into another box went the cardboard tubes donated by an architecture firm, the grass stakes and a heap of thin whippy bamboo poles.

The third box was full of the things that defied categorization – the tupperware containers of various sizes, the crayons and the chalks and the blue-painted clothes pegs.  Sample squares of tiles, small and hard and perfect.  Poker chips, and multicolored drinking straws.

As promised on the weather report, the heavens opened and fat raindrops came falling down.  I split my (only) jeans clambering in and out of the van.  We were deciding what to leave on the island and what to bring with us, throwing informational postcards and sign-up sheets into a tote bag to take home again.

It was the start of a new location, with that holiday feeling of novelty and anticipation. It made me think of other locations, other set-ups.  There was a play garden where I had been Senior for awhile and I recalled the pleasure and responsibility of getting there first.  Doing the Health and Safety checks and then sitting with a last hot coffee in china mug, surveying the place that was now perfectly quiet but soon to be the site of epic battles, great feats of generosity.

The actual staging will come later, the distributing of materials in half-formed suggestions in the landscape that happens before a session.  We looked around now to start thinking of the possibilities.  This hill would be good for rolling.  The boxes could face this view and serve as benches or jumping platforms.  Stakes and ribbons could populate the lawn like daisies.

It is a carnivalesque feeling to open a site like this one.  Perhaps places have memories, and personalities already, and this place is prepared for an art festival.  To our right is an astro-turf covered Stealth Fighter which camouflages against the grass.  Behind us, a woman is knitting sweaters for tree trunks out of plastic bag strips.  I’ve been thinking of them in a Northern British accent as ‘tree cosies’.  The whole landscape is playful already – large crowds will be coming here in little groups, expecting a day out doing something unusual.

In other places, those small neighborhood spaces selected precisely because they are so poor for play, the atmosphere is different.  Play-deprived neighborhoods sometimes feel cold, and you are uncertain of the welcome you might receive the first few times out.  You need to ‘warm them up’ a little, with your materials and your enthusiasm.  You are a guest in someone else’s front yard, and you need to prove yourself reliable and interesting.  Then you begin to build trust and relationships with the people who come, start to know the play-selves of the children who attend.

All these different places to play, all these different contexts for playwork.  Each offers a particular set of possibilities and suggestions – the only guarantee in any of them is that by the end of the day you’ll have been surprised.

(Only 17 days left to raise $7000!  We’re using crowd-source fundraising to match our initial grant for this 4-month long Pop-Up Adventure Playground.  Help out by donating or helping us to spread the word:  http://www.indiegogo.com/pop-up-adventure-play)

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