For more than a century, playgrounds have had a huge role in shaping children’s lives and lifelong memories. Once Upon a Playground, Fort Collins Museum of Discovery’s unique traveling exhibit, offers a visual and interactive tour of over one hundred years of American playground equipment. The exhibit celebrates the evolution and lasting power of these playgrounds that are synonymous with childhood.
For everyone that grew up with classic American playground equipment, the historic images in this exhibit will surely bring back great memories of having fun on swings and slides during school recess or spending family time at local parks. It will bring back memories of how playgrounds helped create new friendships, and how the hours flew by as we exhausted ourselves with countless trips down the high metal slide, held contests to see who could swing the highest or move across all the monkey bars the fastest, and made ourselves dizzy on the spinning merry-go-rounds.
Children of a younger generation may not share the nostalgia for these older objects, but they are creating experiences and memories of their own. As our collective ideas of childhood, community, and play have changed, so too have our playgrounds—from materials, to design, to the stories they tell. Contemporary playgrounds are also increasingly designed to be more inclusive so that they can be enjoyed by children of all abilities. As different as our new playgrounds may seem from those of previous decades, the common threads remain: the timelessness of children at play and the joy of uniting imagination with the excitement of carefree physical activity.
Once Upon a Playground also provides a visual representation of vanishing playgrounds of our past, celebrating their place in American culture and the collective memories of generations. Co-curated by Brenda Biondo, author of Once Upon a Playground: A Celebration of Classic American Playgrounds, 1920–1975 (University Press of New England, 2014), and Carol Johnson, recently retired curator of photography at the Library of Congress, the exhibition combines contemporary photographs of classic equipment, vintage images of playground scenes from the Library of Congress’ collections, and images from period playground catalogs and other ephemera. By bringing together these diverse sources, the exhibition highlights a playground vernacular that developed over decades, while providing historical context and cultural insight.
In addition to the nostalgia-inducing photographs, Fort Collins Museum of Discovery’s special exhibition celebrates playgrounds of Fort Collins’ past, present and future. In partnership with the City of Fort Collins Park Planning and Development, the museum secured a giant sugar beet play structure for the exhibit that is slated to be installed in a new City park in the summer of 2019. The sugar beet, features a variety of ways to climb, traverse, and explore, this 12’ tall sugar beet, with a 7’ slide, is sure to put the “play” in playground.
The Museum of Discovery invites you to touch, to see, to smell, to listen, to climb, to build, to play — and to experience this interactive exhibition that is sure to enliven all your senses. Once Upon a Playground, organized by ExhibitsUSA, a program of Mid-America Arts Alliance, Kansas City, MO., is open for play, exploration and reflection until May 26, 2019. This special traveling exhibition is $4 in addition to general admission and free for members of the museum.