Culture and heritage

ArtPlay turns 20: riverside hub nurtures next-gen creatives

5 December 2023

Head to the riverbank behind Fed Square to discover a creative haven that has enchanted children, families and artists for two decades.

At ArtPlay, children are the drivers of their own creative adventures. With the guidance of artists, children (from babies to 13 years of age) playfully explore how to express themselves through the arts.

Every year, children and families can choose from up to 300 free or affordable workshops, events, immersive installations and performances – at our Birrarung Marr venue or online. These inclusive creative encounters are designed to be challenging, meaningful and unique. View the 2024 program of events.

Over 20 years, children have flocked to ArtPlay to explore themes ranging from the climate crisis to what Melbourne may sound like in 100 years’ time. The creative experiences encompass many and varied art forms such as drawing, theatre, animation, sound-making and sculpture, to name a few.

There’ve been collaborations for the city’s most iconic events, such as the commissioning of Polyglot’s Tangled as part of Moomba more than 10 years ago and, in the last five years, co-commissioning shows such as Crumbs with Yirramboi First Nations Festival and The Rainbow Tree with Midsumma Festival.

ArtPlay has also collaborated with children and artists from around the world. The Little Nests program brought together artists from Indonesia and Singapore, in partnership with Melbourne Fringe, while the ongoing Shadows project partners with Jeonju Cultural Foundation in Korea.

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Where it all began

ArtPlay was inspired by The Ark, a dedicated cultural centre for children in Dublin. And in turn, ArtPlay has inspired the Artground in Singapore and Palbok Art Factory’s children’s creative program in Korea.

Established with a contribution from the Sidney Myer Fund, ArtPlay’s red-brick warehouse home was once part of the Melbourne rail yards, located where Fed Square stands today. Inside, there is a large open space that continuously transforms with each creative offering.

Since those early days, ArtPlay has gone from strength to strength, supported by the City of Melbourne’s ongoing commitment to the provision of quality arts and cultural programs for children and families.

Dedicated to continuous improvement, ArtPlay has partnered with researchers and universities including the University of Melbourne and RMIT to help define ArtPlay’s special role in the community and shape its onward path.

ArtPlay is recognised as a leader and innovator in the field locally and nationally, for both its in-venue and digital offerings. Last year, three ArtPlay projects were recognised in the Green Room Awards, which celebrate leading work in the arts sector.

One of ArtPlay’s flagship programs is the New Ideas Lab, where artists co-create new works with children, with some projects going on to international acclaim.

Meet the By Kids for Kids Collective

By Kids for Kids is a two year program where a selected group of children aged 9 to 13 come together to develop and deliver arts experiences for their peers at ArtPlay.

Working alongside artists Alex Walker and Hannah Liddeaux from House of Muchness, the collective created a program of exciting events called Don’t Panic, Everything is Urgent last year.

When faced with a relentless atmosphere of crisis, the children decided to disrupt it with play. The arts events they’ve dreamed up are both disruptive and joyful.

Two By Kids for Kids events will be remounted in the July school holidays this year – a great source of pride for their enthusiastic grown-up guides, Alex and Hannah.

“I’m always excited about young people being armed with surprising responsibilities, reframing our expectations of them,” Alex said.

“Having this ensemble as co-designers with us was a powerful way for them to be centralised in meaning-making, in deciding what matters, and how we should turn what matters into an arts experience.

“The first version of these works was electric. We love that we’re going to get the chance to invest more in them and re-deliver a finessed, vamped iteration.”

Members of the By Kids for Kids Collective

Parents of By Kids for Kids members say that their children have shown remarkable growth in response to being charged with new creative responsibilities – collaborating with joy in a supportive environment of artistic invention.

“A really important part of this process has been working with our collective of children on how to guide and lead – not with a kind of self-importance, but with warmth and kindness,” Alex said.

“They’re learning about the effect they have on another person when they’re in these roles, and working out what kind of impact they want to have, how they want to shape that other child’s experience.

“Having the kids host and lead their peers and younger children shows that we are all teachers and learners, and the strength of ideas isn’t age dependent.

“The richest of processes and outcomes happen when different ages, minds, diversities and lived experiences join up.”

Thoughts from some By Kids for Kids members

“I’ve loved meeting these people. And working together in this way, which is chaotic and organised at the same time. I hope kids walk away saying: ‘I want to do this again. Can we stay longer?’.”

“I think when children come to the things we’ve planned they’ll feel a connection to the material. Like, hopefully they’ll feel that we’ve had empathy for young people when we’ve designed these things.”

“I hope kids walk away thinking that kids can run some things. I hope leading an experience will make me ready for all the other things I want to do.”

“We hold lots of different opinions, so the ideas get better as we ask questions about them, saying ‘yes and..’ and ‘yes but…’. I hope kids love it and want to come again.”

“Kids know quite well what kids enjoy so it makes sense to do it like this. Just because we’re children we’re not the wrong person for the job, we’re the right kind of people for the job – to guide the fun.”

What’s in store at ArtPlay in 2024

Wild City (tickets on sale 20 January)
Kathy Holowko

Explore a thriving green metropolis where humans and animals share their habitat in this exhibition co-created with children and urban ecologists. Developed through the New Ideas Lab, this award-winning program has toured far and wide, and this year we welcome it back to ArtPlay. January to June. For ages 3 to 13.

SEAM, Drop Bear Theatre and Threshold

Parents with babies and pre-schoolers are invited to experience the mesmerising sounds, shapes and wet embrace of rain. Created at ArtPlay in 2013, RAIN has gone on sold-out national and international tours. Slow down and wonder amid this intimate, interactive installation from August. For ages 0 to 5.


The World is Lava
By Kids for Kids Collective

Navigate “emergencies” – from everyday anxieties like eating the worst vegetable to natural disasters – in an obstacle course of tasks. This event is delivered in a game format, with a scoreboard and trophies awarded for surviving daily life. For ages 5 to 11. July school holidays.

The World is Lava | Photo: Pia Johnson

Can Everyone Please Calm Down?
By Kids for Kids Collective

Peace out with plants, put cucumber slices on your eyes and try tai chi at test stations designed to help you achieve maximum calm. Then cast your vote for the best method. For ages 5 to 11. July school holidays.

Can Everyone Please Calm Down? | Photo: Pia Johnson

New Ideas Lab projects
Various artists

Cook up a storm in Maa Maa and Nonna’s Kitchen, wow your audience with a super-fun storytelling game in Then What?!, discover a world where no books are banned in The Censor, and create a safe, sustainable environment for the last living creature of its kind in Endling. These four new projects will empower and entertain from January to May. For various ages.

Maa Maa and Nonna’s Kitchen | Photo: Darren Gill

View all events at ArtPlay.

For artists

ArtPlay works with a range of artists, arts organisations and festivals who are interested in sharing their artistic practice with children and families. We have opportunities for emerging and experienced artists from all disciplines.

If you have an idea for a workshop, performance or exhibition, consider applying to ArtPlay’s New Ideas Lab, which calls for expressions of interest every two years.

Visit the ArtPlay webpage to browse past projects, interviews with artists and guides outlining specialised areas of practice such as technology and live art, as well as consulting and working with young children.

“The dedication and focus the whole of ArtPlay’s team put on the children’s experience is inspiring and quite rare to find. I’m sure this is one of the best available opportunities, and the best resourced environment, to discover how to work with and for children.”

Daniele Poidomani
New Ideas Lab artist and puppeteer

“ArtPlay has shaped so much of my creative practice and experience – I have seeded so many ideas in this space. It is rare to find a place that brings people together to experiment and test work with children and families, to bring practitioners together who often work in isolation, and to bring children into the centre of focus, play and creativity.”

Catherine Sewell
Artistic Director, Polyglot Theatre

Creativity for older children and young adults

For those a little older, Signal is the City of Melbourne’s creative studio for young people aged 14 to 25. Located in Northbank, Signal offers young people the opportunity to work alongside artists in a collaborative way, through multi-artform workshops and mentoring.

Signal provides emerging and established artists with opportunities and spaces for exploration, creation and presentation, online and IRL. To learn more, visit Signal.

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