Help Inform the Future of Play in Pittsburgh


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Two young girls climb on the Lozziwurm play sculpture at Carnegie Museum of Art during The Ultimate Play Day on April 27, 2014 © Carnegie Museum of Art. Photo: Josh Franzos.

Call to Action: Take the Pittsburgh Playability Survey and help Carnegie Museum of Art make the city more playable and family-friendly. 

Play was a central theme of the 2013 Carnegie International, with The Playground Project exhibition and Lozziwurm play sculpture encouraging a larger ongoing discussion about the way we approach childhood, risk, public space, and education. And it’s a topic that remains timely. In a recent segment on NPR, for example, it was reported that time on the playground may be more important than time in the classroom.

“The experience of play changes the connections of the neurons at the front end of your brain,” Sergio Pellis, a researcher at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada, told NPR’s Jon Hamilton. “And without play experience,” he said, “those neurons aren’t changed.”

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A young boy launches his handmade boat in the fountain out front of Carnegie Museum of Art during Ultimate Play Day on April 27, 2014 © Carnegie Museum of Art. Photo: Josh Franzos.

Free play, or unstructured creative time for children, is key to enabling that experience. And it’s a topic that most often arises when discussion turns to the design of modern playgrounds, which are often viewed as too safeguarded and antithetical to creativity. Hanna Rosin, writing on the subject of play for The Atlantic this past March, concluded that “a preoccupation with safety has stripped childhood of independence, risk taking, and discovery—without making it safer.”

But what can be done to encourage innovative playgrounds and creative play in cities like Pittsburgh and others around the country?

In an effort to build on the momentum started during the 2013 Carnegie International, Carnegie Museum of Art has continued to explore the benefits of creative play through its participation in the Playful Pittsburgh Collaborative, a partnership between CMOA, The Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children (PAEYC), Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, Let’s Move Pittsburgh, Let Kids Play!, The Sprout Fund, and The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh.

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A scene from Ultimate Play Day on April 27, 2014 © Carnegie Museum of Art. Photo: Josh Franzos.

This past April, for example, the Playful Pittsburgh Collaborative hosted The Ultimate Play Day, a day-long celebration at Carnegie Museum of Art focused on the idea that play is a crucial part of everyone’s daily life, not just children. As a result, the event featured outdoor play and a host of activities geared toward both children and adults: building with over-sized Lego blocks, fun with recyclable hula hoops, storytelling sessions, and game play with giant cardboard soccer balls.

The Playful Pittsburgh Collaborative has also become integrally involved in Playful City USA, a project led by KaBOOM! that encourages creative play and the construction of innovative, kid-inspired playgrounds. Last year marked the first annual Playful City USA Leaders Summit, an invitation-only event held in Baltimore that brought together community leaders from across the country to generate new ideas regarding play infrastructure, policies, and programming. Educators from Carnegie Museum of Art, along with other members of the Collaborative, were invited to attend and share their ideas at the inaugural event.

What makes the summit a constructive forum on the state of creative play is the fact that invited guests are also required to present a bold goal for their respective cities. This year the second annual Leaders Summit will be held in Chicago on October 23 and 24. Same as last year, educators from Carnegie Museum of Art and other member groups in the Collaborative were invited to attend and present a bold goal for the future of play in the City of Pittsburgh.

To help inform the Collaborative’s presentation at this year’s summit, please consider taking the Pittsburgh Playability Survey. Your input will be put to good use. The survey expires on Friday August 29.