A team of artists will collaborate on a series of Pop Up Art Adventure Playgrounds that will provide the experience of play and artistic creation to children in underserved neighborhoods of Topeka, Lawrence and Kansas City, KS.

Research shows that human brains learn best when we play; play supports emotional growth and contributes to creativity. Yet, young children increasingly have fewer opportunities for self-directed play as the school day, after-school and summer activities eat into their playtime. According to a 2008 research study, children play 8 hours less each week than two decades ago, making it harder for children to reap the benefits of self-directed play. The Art Adventure Playgrounds present a creative solution to this need. Rocket Grants funding and additional donations, will be used to obtain the training, materials and methods to provide more opportunities for kids to play – and create.

Richard Renner is the creator of the Recycle Cycle, an art car with interactive games made of found items. When sharing it in public spaces he discovered that children will play longer and freer if left to discover and create on their own, in fact his attempts to show them how to play and help them only shortened their interest. While looking into this, he discovered a whole field of study and practice called Free Play, with Adventure Playgrounds as the main tool for providing meaningful play experiences. In 2017 he went to a conference for Adventure Playgrounds where he met people and teachers from over 10 countries, and realized he could create this in his part of the world too. Last year he took the leap and created Pop Up Playgrounds at the Kansas City Maker Faire and the KCPT Good Neighbor Festival. The response was overwhelmingly positive and the effects tangible. His next step is to include other artists in this movement and make it available to underserved kids in our area.

Adventure Playgrounds have been around for over 50 years since Carl Theodor Sorensen created the first one in Denmark in 1943. Sorenson observed the kids and wrote that “They can dream, imagine and make dreams with imagination and passion about adventure play reality… which the child’s mind is completely satisfied with…It is so obvious that the children thrive here and feel well, they unfold and they live.” Renner’s team want to give the children of our area that feeling of wellbeing and play, using artistic elements that encourage creations of painting, sculpting, performing and assembling.

Extending the idea of free play, an Art Adventure Playground is an area filled with loose items such as boxes, tires, tubes, crates, fabric, rope, costumes, chalk paint, brushes, and other fanciful and found materials that immediately invite children to play. The introduction of art supplies and tools will increase the opportunity for children to experience making art in spontaneous self-directed ways. Each Playground will be staged for 3+ hours in libraries, community parks, parking lots and open spaces in order to reach children in Topeka, Lawrence and Kansas City. The selection of the venues for these pop ups will be determined by low income, lack of public art and lack of art education in adjoining neighborhoods.

In line with the Free Play theory, there will be no uninvited adults in the playground area lending an unwanted hand. Kids will be helping kids if needed and adults can only enter if asked. The team expects some of the parents to be uncomfortable with this and the level of play their kids will be doing. To help inform them, they will have handouts explaining the process, risks and benefits of an Art Adventure Playground. It is the team’s hope that parents will see the staff is well prepared, and the approach is proven.

Playworkers will be there to add only the lightest of adult interactions in order to keep the play cycle going. It is the Art Play Workers ability to facilitate the child-directed activity that makes this playground different from all others. In describing the role of the play worker, Psychiatrist T. Chilton wrote

“Their primary function is to help to create an atmosphere which is child centered; where there are no meaningless limitations or restrictions, apart from precautions necessary against injury; where guidance and help is given when asked for or needed…they must know when to help a child and when to withdraw so that the child can work through a problem with or without assistance and thus develop confidence through co-operation and self-help.”

To achieve this, Play Workers will have 20 hours of training conducted by Pop Up Playground founder Morgan Leichter-Saxby along with first aid, CPR training and liability coverage.


Richard Renner – performing artist. Actor, Juggler, Orangutan, Poet and Fool all describe Richard Renner as he performs his special brand of humor. Whether juggling, unicycling, ropewalking, or creating a zany improvisation, Richard performs with unbounded energy and skill.

After graduating from the University of Kansas in 1981 with a theater degree, he spent years and a small fortune studying with such teachers as Marcel Marceau – the French mime master, Yuri Belov – a famous Russian clown, and Avner the Eccentric – the famous New Vaudevillian. After a few years with the Kansas City based Mimewock Company, Richard struck out on his own as a company of one. That quickly grew as he discovered he had a lot of characters in his own head waiting to get out.

Since then he has gone on to perform in the United States, Canada and Mexico. The universal need for laughter makes it easy for him to perform for any audience. After meeting many like-minded performers, he started the Vodvill Entertainment Company in 1988 to promote the variety arts in the Midwest. It is still going strong with a roster of over 100 different acts.

Matthew Lord – art and illustration – was born in Marysville, Kansas in 1975. At an early age, he learned the value of his artistry when he began swapping drawings of jet fighters for more desirable food at school lunch. Growing up in a small town in the eighties, Matthew’s childhood existed in two worlds – one spent outside exploring and imagining in the five square mile area that was his hometown and the other spent indoors voraciously consuming television, collecting comic books and drawing at the kitchen table.

In 1999, Matthew graduated with BFA in Illustration at the University of Kansas. Between then and now, Matthew has experienced many milestones in his career, including several solo and group exhibitions, featured editorial illustrations, lectures and workshops. He has taken on the roles of teacher, facilitator, mentor, curator and storyteller. He also celebrates his creative community through collaborating on art installations, monthly themed drawing events and an artist-run non-profit creative space.

Matthew’s artwork often tilts toward the absurd while incorporating elements of fantastic realism. Using his preferred mediums of gouache, ink and printmaking, he strives to tell a well-constructed story with his artwork, using the panel as his delivery device. Matthew’s influences are drawn from curiosity for the natural world and a love of mythology. He lives and makes artwork in Lawrence, KS.

Frank Shopen – sculpture – has been making bronze sculptures and working in stone professionally for over 25 years. He holds a degree in Industrial Arts and Technology Education, with certification in wood, metal, plastics and printing, from Emporia State University.

Frank has called Lawrence home since 1984 when he brought his small family here, having fallen in love with the town in his college days. He found he also loved the limestone native to this area from which so many buildings are made. He started his own masonry business and it thrived. But he wanted more from the sensual Kansas limestone and started sculpting, and this eventually led to stone carving on the Kansas Statehouse in 1988. He then fell in love with clay and bronze working at Heartland Art bronze, where he worked until he built his own bronze finishing shop, Bronzewurks. There, he did every aspect of art bronze casting and finishing for 20 years, designing and building most of his own equipment and tools. From 2008-11 he was once again called on to restore the Kansas Statehouse. Since then he has worked part time at a makerspace in north Lawrence doing stone, clay and bronze sculpture. He currently enjoys many different aspects of teaching art, from carving to figure sculpture.

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