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Early in 2018 we were contacted by Jo Marsh director of Tŷ Pawb, Wrexham Council’s Markets, Community and Arts hub. Jo, working with Wrexham’s Play & Youth Support Team, was keen to develop an exhibition to run through the summer of 2019 that would celebrate Wrexham’s rich history of playwork and make links with the way in which artists work. We were commissioned to act as consultants, to provide advice to the council and develop plans for the Play-Work exhibition, facilitating collaboration between partners including the Local Authority’s Play & Youth Support Team (PYST), The Venture, AVOW (The Land), Wrexham Youth & Play Partnership (WYPP) and of course Tŷ Pawb.
Our work included coordinating meetings with partners and stakeholders, developing final plans from concept consultations, costing and budgeting both build and staffing requirements, collating archival images, providing policy advice and guidance by way of operational plans and producing post installation risk-benefit assessments. We also curated / developed the text displays for the exhibition. Finally, we provided support and oversight of the actual build of the exhibition, in partnership with Colin Powel (The Venture), Adam, Andy and Jo (Tŷ Pawb) and Jay Davies and Gareth Stacey (Wrexham Play and Youth Support Team). This was no mean feat with 500 pallets and 16 tonnes of sand being transferred (by hand) in and out of the gallery!
This exhibition was about playwork and children’s right to play, in particular the Welsh Play Sufficiency Duty (which made Wales the first country in the world to legislate for children’s play) and General Comment 17 by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (another groundbreaking publication in terms of support for children’s right to play). As such, interactions between adults and children within the exhibition were guided by the Playwork Principles. These principles explain the ethical approach playworkers take to working with and on behalf of children and their play. In addition, we developed a further set of guiding principles to help staff consistently aligned their practice with the aspirations for and values of the exhibition, these included:
- Children must be allowed to play in the gallery when it is open.
- The space must be co-produced involving both children and adults.
- The space must develop over the course of the exhibition, illustrating the process of co-creating a place for play.
- There must be some direct playwork involvement with children.
- The installation must create an affective space with the look and ‘feel’ of an adventure ground.
- The space must provide people with a sense of permission to be playful
- There must be an accessible route through the gallery for those who don’t want to play or have limited mobility.
- As far as is reasonably practicable, adults must avoid being precious or prescriptive over the resources made available to children.
The Exhibition opened on August the 10th 2019 and ran for three months until the end of October. It included a live adventure playground within Tŷ Pawb’s gallery one, photographic archives of playwork in Wrexham since the 1970s, alongside a new commission by artist Morag Colquhoun and Assemble’s film ‘Voices of Children’. The exhibition celebrated children’s’ play and highlighted and celebrated the history and ongoing significance of playwork in Wrexham, in particular Wrexham’s adventure playgrounds and the parts they play in the lives of local people. Furthermore, the exhibition advocated for the ongoing resourcing of playwork provision, explored the creative processes of making, taking apart, and remaking that children undertake on adventure playgrounds, and it considered what can be learnt from this and transferred into artists’ studio practice.
We are pleased to report that the exhibition had approximately 10,000 visitors over the three month period, with fantastic feedback from both children and adults who were themselves actively involved in further developing the site.
The exhibition closed with a conference at Ty Pawb, exploring the art of working with playing children and the creative common ground shared by artists, playing children and playworkers. Speakers included us (Ben and Mike), Dr Wendy Russell, artist Nils Norman, Penny Wilson of Turner Prize Winning Assemble, Artist Morag Colquhoun and playworker Colin Powell.