Adventure Playground Meets Art Project

Bryan Welch

Bryan Welch

In his latest project, Brooklyn-based artist and educator Bryan Welch explains that he is channeling what is known as an “adventure playground” — a play space for kids that is equal parts awesome and terrifying. These are largely comprised of loose and moving parts and are designed to provide children with the opportunity to face challenges that a more manicured playground may not, with the goal to help them build confidence. (In Hanna Rosin’s exploration of these structures in The Atlantic earlier this year, she details children rolling tires into a creek, starting fires and creating forts from pieces of wood at one such playground in North Wales.)

It’s that concept Welch was going for when he thought up NEST, which was one of five installations being created as a part of the PRESENT Project, a five-week artist-in-residence program that also featured work by Dinorah de Jesús Rodriguez, Caledonia Curry, Florence Carbonne, Sally Lundburg and Keith Tallett.

“We have really given the children the opportunity to design the structure themselves,” says Welch, who has founded and directed art learning centers across the country. “We have given them a real free hand.”

Kids walk across NEST

Kids walk across NEST

While Welch, of course, is there to guide and revise (minimally) their work, the kids basically had free rein to build and modify the structure. A majority of the project was constructed by a core group of about 30 students ranging in age from 8 to 14 from various local schools as an after-school activity twice a week. Plus, other school groups and members of the community also contributed during public preview events.

The PRESENT Project wrapped last Friday — and NEST since has been deconstructed. Made from bamboo, NEST stretched all the way to the warehouse’s ceiling, with a string of ladders and swings and bridges connecting across the room so that kids actually could walk the length of it.

“There are creaky spaces, there are loose latchings, there are wobbly aspects of it,” Welch says. “What I love to see is the child putting on the kind of alertness and awareness that they need to traverse this really challenging space. And with intense focus, I see them try to climb around on it. And I watch their parents go from this kind of terror to this kind of maybe a little bit of a new understanding of what is possible for their child.”