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Play, Creativity and Wellbeing Project

The Play, Creativity and Wellbeing Project is an applied research project that critically examines the role and capability of play in adult cultural practice.  It investigates sites of play to identify and explore those elements of play that elicit forms of creative and collaborative engagement, and to examine the impact of these elements on players and their environments.

In our current highly complex environment, play – with its exploratory, autotelic, generative, adaptive and collaborative capacities – is increasingly seen as a vital resource, with the potential for deployment in multiple settings, and with novel and transformative capabilities that enhance wellbeing.

The Play, Creativity and Wellbeing Project explores play as a mode of engagement, as a driver of creativity and innovation, and as a facilitator of individual and community wellbeing

Located as we are in the ACT, the Play, Creativity and Wellbeing Project aims to position Canberra as a laboratory of the possible, and to collaborate with local individuals and institutions to make Canberra a 'playful' city – to inspire play in myriad, diverse and beneficial ways – for improved life and wellbeing.

The aims of the Play, Creativity and Wellbeing Project are:

  • To make Canberra a better place by contributing to the development and proliferation of playful environments across the lifespan;
  • To investigate sites of play as a form of cultural practice and examine the impact of play on players and their environments;
  • To identify and explore the conditions of play that elicit creative and collaborative engagement;
  • To test creative methodologies and develop interdisciplinary and cross-sector experiments that innovate thinking and practice about people and place in the ACT
  • To explore the relationship between play and well-being, and to apply this knowledge in real-word contexts for community benefit; and
  • To disseminate knowledge of the role and benefits of play for wellbeing, and to apply knowledge in real-world contexts for community benefits.

Play Activation NetworkThe Play, Creativity and Wellbeing Project's research connects to the community through the ACT Play Activation Network. Explore the website to find out more.

Project investigators:
Dr Cathy Hope
Dr Denise Thwaites
Dr Bethaney Turner
Dr Sam Hinton

Haig Park Experiments 2019–2020

Chief Investigators: Cathy Hope (Lead, UC), Adelaide Rief (AGAC) and David Caffery (Dionysus), Tait Network
Funder: Canberra Renewal Authority, ACT Government

Haig Park Experiments continued into 2020 with the design of a program of activations that assisted the community to safely return to the park through gradual escalation in program scale in response to changing COVID-19 public health emergency protocols. From June to December, we delivered 34 COVID-safe events in the park targeting diverse groups.

Ginninderry Living Lab: Green, Open and Play Space

Chief Investigators: Cathy Hope, Denise Thwaites and Fanke Peng
Funder: Riverview Projects

The aim of this project is to co-develop with stakeholders and community a Phase 1 suite of open, green and play spaces that are diverse, unique, sustainable, accessible and that encourages optimal physical, recreational and social activity and play across the lifespan. In 2020, we identified with the community the role and potential of ‘The Link’ play space and produced a report with recommendations for this space. We also undertook an audit of the new Neighbourhood Play Space 1 to inform a 2021 intervention, and an interdisciplinary Professional Practice student team collaborated with Ginninderry staff and play space designers to produce a unique play element for Neighbourhood Play Space 2.

Goulburn Play and Health Forum

On July 10 2019 in the glorious city of Goulburn the Play, Creativity and Wellbeing Project in the CCCR presented a line-up of speakers whose work in regional place-making, creativity, the arts and health inspired us to think differently about the many possibilities for enriching regional environments and improving community wellbeing.

We also showcased some of the fantastic and impactful work in Goulburn and hear from the local legends who are making it happen.

The programme (attached) included:
Councillor Bob Kirk: Mayor of Goulburn
Bridge to Sing Disability Choir (+ ukes!)
Dr Kylie Bourne: Major Research Projects, Regional Australia Institute
Jeremy Smith: Director Community, Emerging and Experimental Arts, Australia Council for the Arts
Sarah Nash: Director, Plunge Cultural Festival, Clarence Valley
Sarah Robin: Coordinator of the Healthy Towns Initiative and Program Coordinator, North Coast Primary Health Network
Carolyn Ardler: Coordinator Maclean Healthy Towns Initiative
Kane Sparks: (award winning) Youth Coordinator, Swan Hill Council, Victoria

The event is sponsored by the Southern NSW Local Health District and supported by Southern Tableland Arts.

Download Program Here

Designing a framework for engaging non-traditional segments in physical activity in natural environments: a pilot project with older persons 65+ at three destination nature sites in Canberra

This ACT Health Promotion project involves the development and trial of an evidence-based, transferable and scalable framework for engaging statistically less active segments of the ACT population in the daily required physical activity in natural environments.

This pilot project in the first instance will deliver six distinct, co-designed programs to engage 30 older people in the required daily physical activity in three distinct natural environments - the Aboretum, Lanyon Homestead and Tidbinbilla. These programs will then be rolled out by the three destination sites for older adults across the ACT.

The broader aim is for these programs to break down any barriers between participants and engagement in physical activity in green spaces, and thus to encourage both more physical activity in activity outdoors, and more diverse outdoor physical activity.

The project framework will then provide an ongoing tool for the effective design of programs that motivate non-traditional users of natural environments to undertake physical activity in a range of green spaces.

Three ACT destination sites with three different natural settings – the Aboretum, Lanyon Homestead and Tidbinbilla – have partnered to:

  1. provide a broader cross-section of outdoor experience
  2. collaborate on program design to attract population segments not currently engaging with nature in physically active ways.

With UC and Active Canberra, these sites will collaborate with two older adult groups in Canberra (Woden Seniors and COTA ACT) to co-design and trial the programs.

This project is innovative in that it seeks to break down barriers to physical engagement with, and activity in, green space by co-designing programs with non-traditional users to increase likelihood not only of initial engagement but also of repeat behaviour. This project draws on the principle of engagement: of designing programs that actively encourage incidental physical activity via recreational experiences built on the many positive affordances of the natural environment.

Funding: ACT Health
Partners: Active Canberra, Council on the Ageing ACT, National Arboretum Canberra, Lanyon Homestead, Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve
Chief Investigator: Cathy Hope
Other Investigators: Bethaney Turner (UC) , Daniela Castro de Jong, Tom Bevitt (UC)

Evaluation Suite of Research Tools for Activations in Canberra City

This project aims to provide the City Renewal Authority (CRA) with a suite of 5 informed, transferable, scalable and incentivised research tools to evaluate activations in the city and to engage community in a continuous dialogue that assists the CRA in co-constructing a more vibrant city with both activators (artists, community groups, local business etc) and the community, and in meaningful ways.

The Play, Creativity and Wellbeing Project, University of Canberra will design and trial five different research models that examine the role and impact of the activations in the city.

These 5 research tools will provide the CRA with data on 5 activations. These tools can then be replicated or adjusted for ongoing use by the City Renewal Authority.

Funding: City Renewal Authority
Chief Investigator: Cathy  Hope
Other Investigators: Bethaney Turner (UC); Glen Fuller (UC)

Canberra Destination Play Space Audit

This Project aims to inform the design of the West Basin play facilities with an Audit of Canberra’s key destination and city playgrounds that combines a facilities audit with community surveys on playground usage and attitudes to Canberra destination playgrounds.

The Audit, combined with our previous research on best practice in Australian and international playgrounds will:

  • Inform the planning of play facilities to enact the vision, place principles and objectives of the City to Lake Project Strategic Urban Design Framework, and the Principles for Sustainable Development in the Territory Plan;
  • Identify those features of play facilities that offer unique appeal at West Basin to Canberra publics both as a viable visitation site and as part of Canberra’s vibrant and distinctive cultural heritage;
  • Engage Canberra publics in this process through community feedback on usage and attitudes toward Canberra’s current destination playgrounds

The data from the Audit can also be used as a resource for ongoing maintenance and development of play spaces in Canberra more broadly

Funding: City Renewal Authority, ACT Government
Chief Investigators: Cathy Hope; Dr Kate Bishop (UNSW)
Investigators: Bethaney Turner (UC); Glen Fuller (UC); Louise Curham (UC) Deborah Cleland (ANU)

Peak Stuff Art Installation: Alinga Street Bridge Exhibition

The Alinga Street Bridge Exhibition Series is a proposed play-themed series of installations (the title of the exhibition is currently under development) to be co-curated by Art Not Apart and the Play Activation Network, as part of an applied research project managed by the Play Creativity and Wellbeing Project, Centre for Creative and Cultural Research, University of Canberra.

The aim of this project is:

  • to enliven an under-activated zone in Canberra city with art installations on the Alinga Street Bridge
  • to develop and implement
    • “An Impact Study of Art Installations on the Local Community and Environment”
    • An Evaluative Report for the funding body (City Renewal Authority) and the Play Activation Network

Phase 1: Peak Stuff
Peak Stuff (see image) is an art installation by Sydney’s Gas Studio, and proposed by Art Not Apart and the Play Activation Network for the City Renewal Authority’s 2018 initiative: Enlighten in the city. Peak Stuff will remain on the Alinga Street Bridge for a month, and then be exhibited in Civic Square for 3 hours to enable a more immersive engagement with the work.

Funding: City Activation Team, City Renewal Authority ACT Government
Chief Investigator: Cathy Hope
Investigators: Bethaney Turner

City to the Lake Urban Activation Study

This project seeks to contribute to the development of a vital and sustainable public realm in Canberra through identification and analysis of international exemplars of urban activation. It will highlight examples of urban play that can contribute to the realisation of the five Place Principles of the ACT Government Strategic Urban Design Framework –connected; vibrant; responsive; diverse; green.

Funding: Land Development Agency, ACT Government
Chief Investigator: Cathy Hope
Investigators: Bethaney Turner, Glen Fuller, Sam Hinton and Erin Hinton.

City to the Lake Playspace Study

This project informs the thinking and design of playspaces that will form part of Canberra’s urban renewal sites. Key to current international urban renewal strategies is the activation of sites through the integration of fixed and transient play elements (Stevens, 2007; Stôger, 2016). Within this context, designated play spaces – as public sites for gathering and for play in its various forms – can contribute in significant ways to urban activation, and to the development of a healthy, vibrant, green and liveable city more broadly.  Play spaces are vital for urban environments, acting as counterpoints and complements to the commercial imperatives that dominate the built environment. This project provides an international benchmark study of playspaces in urban environments, and an audit framework for Canberra’s destination playgrounds to identify needs and opportunities for Canberra playspace design.

Funding: Land Development Agency, ACT Government
Chief Investigator: Cathy Hope
Investigators: Bethaney Turner, Carlos Montana Hoyos, Glen Fuller, Erin Hinton

Research Consultancies

Evaluation Report: Card Castle, Enlighten 2018 – Museum of Australian Democracy

This consultancy involves the production of a Report that:

  1. analyses community responses to the MoAD Enlighten installation Card Castle;
  2. considers the success of the Card Castle (a)  against MoAD objectives for this installation, and (b) within the broader context of the literature on participatory museum practice;
  3. makes recommendations based on this analysis for future exhibits.

Funding: Museum of Australian Democracy
Consultant: Cathy Hope

West Belconnen Community Garden and Transitions Project

The Play Creativity and Wellbeing Project at the University of Canberra will develop, deliver and evaluate a targeted urban agriculture initiative that supports health and wellbeing and contribute to the building of a resilient, socially just and environmentally sustainable food system.

With collaboration from all project partners, community consultation and engagement will occur through surveys and workshops with key stakeholders and participants to co-design a garden structure and approach that is meaningful to the particular communities it serves. The focus will be on supporting the development of a community-owned initiative with positive impacts beyond the borders of the garden and those directly involved. UC will lead an evaluation of the program development and implementation through the gathering and analysis of data through multi-staged surveys and interview/focus groups with key stakeholders and the identified community. This will assist in the development of best-practice guidelines for the development of similar programs in areas of need.

We will be working with local services and schools to identify interest and level of need in various communities, with Charnwood and West Belconnen as a starting point. University of Canberra researchers will assist with gathering additional data related to various areas of the ACT that may benefit from involvement in community gardens as a protective factor. We will also be preparing evidence of community gardens as part of an early intervention approach to reducing alcohol and drug misuse, and ascertaining its relevance to the ACT context.

Funding: ACT Health/Alcohol and Drug Foundation
Consultants: Bethaney Turner, Cathy Hope
Partners: Belconnen Community Service, Canberra City Care, Canberra City Farm

Other Projects


Streetwise is an intergenerational participatory arts project involving the training of older Canberrans, by young professional street artists. The project was designed by Cathy Hope of the Play, Creativity and Wellbeing Project and Lisa Petheram, graffiti coordinator of Transport Canberra and City Services. Both are members of the Play Activation Network ACT (PAN) – and this is a PAN initiative. The project is funded by partners Westfield Woden ($10,000) and Transport Canberra and City Services ($8,000 and in-kind support).

In this pilot project, two street artists will design and deliver approved street art murals in and around the Woden bus interchange with groups of older adults. There will be initial training workshop/s by the artists and later each will facilitate the painting of a mural in collaboration with their groups.

Woden is perceived by older people to be an unsafe area, with entrenched and growing ‘social problems’. This unique project aims to work with different age groups to create a more positive, inclusive and colourful space in Woden, especially at the bus interchange. It is likely this project can have positive impacts on older (and other) people to help them feel more welcome in the area, and consequently seek to spend more time in public in the Woden precinct. The project also has benefits of creating intergenerational exchange, relationships and connection. This can lead to improved wellbeing measures for those involved, as well as the general public who witness the project and artwork.

Funding: Westfield Woden; Transport Canberra and City Services
Partners: Westfield Woden, Transport Canberra and City Services, Play Activation Network ACT, Council on the Ageing ACT, Woden Seniors

Completed Projects

Canberra: A Playful City
ACT Events Policy Discussion Paper
ACT Government
Investigator: Cathy Hope

3rd Play, Creativity and Culture Symposium


22 + 23 November 2018, National Museum of Australia

More details:

Civic Square Challenge – Play Symposium 2017

The Play, Creativity and Culture Symposium: Play for a Vital and Sustainable City was held over two days, 22 to 23 November 2017, at the Theo Notaras Multicultural Centre and the Canberra Museum and Gallery in Civic Square, Canberra. As part of the symposium a workshop was held with the brief to make Civic Square a more playful, people-centred and inclusive public space.

Play Symposium 2016

Play in the City: 1st Play, Creativity and Culture Symposium, 10 November 2016, University of Canberra

ACT Events policy discussion paper

Journal articles

Hope, C. Hetherington, P. & Turner. B. (2017). Playful Seriousness and Serious Play: Poetry as creative practice in the international prose poetry project. Text: Journal of Writing and Writing Courses, 40 (15).

Journal issues

Hope, C., Crawford, J. & Turner, B. (eds) (2017). Creative Play, Axon Journal (7)1.