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Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi believed that playgrounds offered unique opportunities for physical and social interaction not typically seen in museums, and he designed a number of spaces where people could actively engage with his art and each other. Cityscape as Playscape brought Noguchi’s playful-meets-political philosophy to SFMOMA’s public spaces and surrounding streets. This experimental workshop series and one day public event was presented in conjunction with the exhibition Noguchi’s Playscapes, and was produced by the games initiative PlaySFMOMA in collaboration with the museum’s Public Dialogue and Architecture + Design curators. Game designers-in-residence were drawn from an SFMOMA continuing education class about Noguchi’s philosophies of play, public space, and the dynamics of power in the urban environment. Through a series of workshops and public playtests, these six community members created games and play activities exploring these ideas. On September 15, 2017, these activities were opened as social, interactive engagements for the San Francisco community, in conjunction with International PARK(ing) Day, a worldwide event that encourages individuals and organizations to occupy metered parking spaces, transforming them into public spaces and inspiring critical thought about how cities are organized. In addition to five PlaySFMOMA games, SFMOMA Architecture + Design curated four activations, turning the block outside of the museum into a festival of playful engagement for thousands of participants.
Games and interactions included:
“Urban Transgression/Urban Kindness Bingo,” take-away cards that encourage players to note moments of thoughtfulness or offense in the city around them.
“Noguchi Hoops,” a miniature basketball game with movable obstacles, based on a never fabricated concept drawing by Noguchi.
A “Musical Magic Carpet” on which players complete musical and spatial challenges individually or collaboratively.
“Ephemeral Play Mountain,” a low impact conceptual obstacle course that transformed the entry spaces of the museum into playable zones including a stanchion maze, a “climbing wall” on the museum’s roman steps, and an astroturf “summit” park for relaxing and reflecting.
“Folks vs. Fat Cats,” a strategy game in which players explore power dynamics and compete for resources in an abstracted urban environment.
Participants noted that this lively, communal enactment of the museum and surrounding spaces changed their impression of SFMOMA and museums: two men who live nearby noted that they “never come” to the museum because it was “too stuffy” for them, but were attracted by the activities “literally out in the street.” Another visitor noted, “It’s so great to see SFMOMA doing something free out in the community. It makes me think you all really care about your city.” Cityscape as Playscape used participatory game design to explore and change the relationships among the museum, the community, and the city.