Since the end of January I have had the pleasure of working on a Contact Inc project conceived by Lenine Bourke called 'The Walking Neighbourhood'. The Walking Neighbourhood is a socially engaged contemporary art work which has elements of performance, installation, public and site specific art. In this case the creative team of arts workers who focused on design and facilitation, worked with a group of young people aged 7-13 to develop a series of walks in the Brisbane inner city neighbourhood of The Fortitude Valley. Over a series of five workshops the group of professional artists worked to support fifteen young participants as they developed their own unique short walking tours around the neighbourhood. As part of this process each child found a destination for their walk and then developed a short performative element to share with their audience at their chosen destination. This exchange took many forms from a conversation, a speech, a poem, a dance, a game, a taste test, a joke, or a magic trick... just to name a few. Working with local businesses, parents, volunteers and a group of different artists this project was extremely engaging not only for the audience but for everyone involved. This work strives to allow children and young people the opportunity to express themselves in ways that they chose and gives them the freedom and responsibility to lead adults and engage with people in new ways as they share their thoughts and discoveries about the particular neighbourhood they are exploring. This incarnation of the work is somewhat different to other Walking Neighbhourhood projects in that often children will be leading tours of their own neighbhood in which they live. In this case the Fortitude Valley is not their home stomping ground, infact it is not a place where young people generally have a place to hang out at all. Therefore this version of the work explores the notion of children in public space and for me it asks questions around how cities are designed, how we are conditioned to think about children, how closely parents and careers feel they must supervise their children and the idea of taking risks.
A few years ago I attended a conference where the keynote speaker asked a room of about a thousand adults to stand if their favourite place to play as a child was outdoors. About 90% of the room stood. He then went on to ask everyone to stay standing if this place they played was best enjoyed when not in direct view of their parents or guardians? Again about 90% of the room remained standing. Following this he went on to show us pictures of some of the current playgrounds deemed safe for children to play in currently. Most of the images were of fenced off small areas made from plastic or synthetic based materials with rubber soft fall beneth instead of grass, sand or dirt. He then went on to show a map of London and mapped one families journey of how far each generation were allowed to travel on their own at the age of about 8. The great grandfather was able to travel to the otherside of town, his son was able to go about half that distance, his son again half that and right up until the most recent son age 8 was not even able to walk up the street on his own. Having worked alongside children in various roles these examples brought up alot of questions for me, questions around childhood that I had been grapling with. In some ways The Walking Neighbourhood project presents a response to some of these issues we are dealing with in contemporary society hence my interest in being involved as part of the facilitation team in the project.
Over the past few days we have performed this work for national and international guests at the Australian Performing Arts Market. Audience responses have been very positive and the childrens confidence has been growing more and more each day. I look forward to working on further Walking Neighbourhood projects in the future.