'Playscapes' to pop up at Portland's Kennedy Park, Eastern Promenade

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PORTLAND — Kids this summer will have the opportunity to build spaceships, race cars, fortresses and anything else they can dream up, all for free.

The only catch is that they’ll have make it all from scrap.

The Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine will host two park takeovers, where kids will be encouraged to design, build and play in their own “ultimate fort-meets-sculpture-meets-homemade-playground,” all made from recycled materials.

“The drive of it is to really utilize some of Portland’s public spaces and to take advantage of many of the recyclable materials hanging around town,” said Louisa Donelson, who conceived the project. “It’s to combine those two simple things together to make something extravagant.”

The museum and theater will provide all the materials: cardboard boxes, fabric, old books, tubes, rocks, newspapers and a range of other items that might be considered scrap. The events, known as “Pop-up Playscapes,” are designed not only to be fun, but to foster creativity and learning, said Donelson, an educator.

The type of playing kids will do at this event is called “open-ended play,” which means that it doesn’t have a pre-determined end, she said, something that has become less and less available with the proliferation of technology and the marketing of toys to kids.

“Kids will get loose parts and stones and newspaper and books, and when they’re given these different materials, they’ll find different ways to use them,” Donelson said. “Kids can use the material any way they like. It’s the kids who will be making the rules and deciding how they want it to go.”

Open-ended playing encourages creativity and imagination and helps kids develop skills to find their own outcomes, she said.

And while the idea for kids to play with used boxes and material otherwise thrown away is nothing new, Donelson said the events are influenced by other pop-up artists and festivals which have promoted temporary, interactive art.

Once such project was an elaborate cardboard box arcade made in 2012 by a 9-year-old boy at his father’s auto parts shop in East Los Angeles, called Caine’s Arcade.

These will be the first organized events of their kind in Portland, according to Donelson.

“It’s really Portland’s style to take advantage of outdoor space for art and take up something temporary,” she said.

At the end of the day, the structures will be disassembled and the materials will be recycled. Kids will be encouraged to take home a bag of recycled materials to continue building and creating at home.

Staff from both the theater and the museum will be on hand, along with local artists, to help encourage, offer technical support and bring the kids’ ideas to fruition.

The two events, which will run from noon-6 p.m., will be held Monday, July 22, at Kennedy Park and Saturday, Aug. 31, at the Eastern Promenade.

Portland’s Pop-up Playscapes are funded by a $4,500 grant from the Cumberland County Community Building Fund of the Maine Community Foundation. In addition, Ruth’s Reusable Resources will provide some of the building materials and Ecomaine will provide environmental education and recycling after the event.

Will Graff can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @W_C_Graff.