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Personal stories inspire the next Play Everywhere

August 25, 2020

Outdoor play is beneficial to the health and development of children.

This is a reasonable, fact-based statement, and is backed up by everyone from nationally recognized free play advocates to internationally renowned research universities. It’s a simple realization, rooted in visions of kids on playgrounds or asphalt courts, and now expanded across the ambitious expanses of public parks or nestled within downtown streetscapes. The only problem appears to be that there still aren’t enough of these spaces inside all communities, especially those in need.

That’s the inspiration behind the Play Everywhere Design Challenge, established by playspace-focused nonprofit KABOOM!, and supported by the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation. Exclusive to Western New York and Southeast Michigan communities, Play Everywhere awards organizations an annual total of $1 million to create lasting, scalable design installations that provide more play-everyday opportunities for families in neighborhoods that have experienced significant disinvestment. After awarding grant monies to nearly 50 inventive installations in 2018 and 2019, the program planned to welcome applications for its third edition this summer.

Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and put the practice and safety of public play in doubt.

In these conditions, the taken-for-granted idea of children playing freely in artistically reconfigured locales  would be clouded by concerns for both the evolving present and unknown future. There could certainly still be new and inventive playspaces, but amid ongoing uncertainties of what the eventual state of play could look like, there needed to be a way to illuminate past successes—and personify the possibilities of what can still be.

To accomplish both of these connective elements, The Martin Group conducted a pair of interviews with two previous Play Everywhere winners to promote the competition’s application period opening on July 13. Through these interviews, we constructed two long-form features that put familiar faces on the community-energizing possibilities of creative playspaces, lamented the challenges such gathering spots face in the cautious times of COVID-19, and highlighted the overwhelming belief each has in how Play Everywhere projects can impact children—no matter the circumstances.   

For Advancing Macomb’s “Let It Flow, Mount Clemens”—an interactive 2018 winner established to highlight its Michigan community’s history and artistic potential—the project has inspired interactive play and interest in what came before, and what can still be. For GO ART!’s winning 2019 concept, “Play Me a Tune Music Garden,” the Batavia, New York-based nonprofit established an idyllic, instrument-strewn alleyway that unveils the possibilities of music, but because of pandemic-related safety concerns, is still enthusiastically building to its intended potential.

Together, these stories reveal not just the sentiments of each interview subject and the details of their projects. Both also provide a relatable aim for like-minded organizations, as well as inspiration for the installations that still could be. Each was established to bring communities together, and amid challenges either being managed or still unforeseen, community organizations are still working tirelessly to find ways to bring its families together within its neighborhood’s allotted space.

Do today’s hurdles make things different for this year’s applicants? Yes—but thanks to another year of Play Everywhere, ambitious designers can access the same inventiveness as past grantees, all to devise playspaces for a different (and much brighter) tomorrow.

For more information on KABOOM! and the Play Everywhere Challenge, visit kaboom.org/grants/play-everywhere-design-challenge. (Full application deadline is October 30.)

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