The Walking Neighbourhood hosted by Children provokes rethinking of children, childhood and public spaces through children leading unknown adults on walks of local neighbourhoods.
Conceptualisation of the project commenced between Lenine Bourke (Artistic Director) and Dr Louise Phillips in late 2010 in response to increased social practices of child restraint hindering scope for children’s active participation. Through social arts practices we wanted to confront the public imaginary with children’s visibility and independence in public spaces. The method and arts practice of walking was selected for its potential for child direction, welcoming children’s participation as experts and agents, and the readily accessible and everyday nature of walking. As a profoundly social activity, walking offers space for child and adult to negotiate co-existence in the public sphere and potential insight into understandings of children, childhood, neighbourhoods, and what it means to be a citizen. Walking as an art practice is employed for its relational and corporeal properties.
A pilot of the concept of child-curated walks ran during March and August 2012 in the metropolitan suburb of Fortitude Valley, Brisbane, Australia. The site intentionally selected in order to counter widely held perceptions of Fortitude Valley as a child unfriendly space. The socially engaged art practices employed by the artsworkers rapidly nurtured rapport and trust between children (aged 8-12 years), their families, local businesses and community members through a series of 8 workshops for the children to develop curated walks of the local neighbourhood. The workshops culminated with two days of public performance of the child-led walks that each child lead to a destination of her/his choice in the Valley. Three hundred and thirty audience members attended the walks in August 2012 out of the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts. Findings from the pilot identified multiple accounts of civic learning for both the child hosts and adult audience members. The child hosts and their parents commonly spoke of gains in confidence in negotiating public spaces (e.g., many child participants now independently walk home from school and shop at local shops). A key theme from interviews with adult audience members was how the experience provoked them to engage in new ways with children, to let go of their adult caregiver behaviours (e.g., managing conversation), and to see the urban space through the eyes of a child, sharing concepts as equals.
The Walking Neighbourhood hosted by Children has since taken place in Chiang Mai, Thailand; Bagot (a closed Aboriginal community), Darwin, Australia; Kings Cross, Sydney, Australia; Seoul, Korea; and Kuopio, Finland with groups of children and young people ranging from 6 to 17 years old. In each community the project demonstrates that, when given the opportunity, children and young people are capable of negotiating public spaces and demonstrating social leadership of adults. And that a child-led experience of a neighbourhood invites delightful new imaginings of places…