Markham Public Library Blanket Fort!

Hi everyone!  This post is coming to you from guest blogger and CIT (Crazy in Training) Francis!  I’m an OCAD U Publications student, writer and printmaker doing a work placement with the Crazy Dames, learning about artistic studio practice and how art can be combined with information with other fields to create some amazing things!  This Sunday I was lucky enough to tag along and help with the latest installment of How to Build a Blanket Fort.  Here’s what you need to know:

This Sunday, Crazy Dames partnered with the
Markham Public Library to create their most intricate blanket fort to date, and in record time!  The setting was especially nostalgic for
Jennie since this was her hometown library. 
Not much had changed except for the indoor trees were quite a bit bigger
than when she had seen them last, making them perfect support beams for our
fort.  With the help of an amazing team
of kids and grown-ups, we transformed the space into a castle, a maze, a
clubhouse…just some of the many interpretations of the sprawling fort that we
created using tablecloths, rope and some clothespins.

Without much planning other than a quick
explanation of context, we set to work on stringing up a spider web of rope
from tree to tree in the main entrance of the library.  As one young participant pointed out, there
was an atmosphere of ‘adults helping kids, kids helping adults’: when small builders
were too short to reach the high points to hang the ropes, helpful grownups
pitched in, while kids provided the main creative force behind the project and
came up with ideas such as a storage room, meeting area and nap site, as well
as innovations such as glassed-in windows (an illusion created with clear
packing tape), an art gallery and an indoor clothes line.   

Our final fort ended up with a main meeting
room in the center, with many more private rooms around the perimeter that were
assigned different purposes.  The smaller
rooms provided some privacy for people who wanted to stay after the workshop
and chat, draw, take selfies, play and admire the fort.  There was no main door, but rather many
openings along the outside that invited exploration and curiosity.  Many new people joined in throughout the
process or interacted with our finished creation.

Afterward, we had a chat about what it
meant to be able to change a space temporarily, and how next time we visited
the space we were in now would be completely different.  We thought about how collaboration and experimentation
were powerful tools that enabled this amazing, playful structure to be built in
only a few short hours.  Many of our
young participants explained their unique additions in a show-and-tell style
debrief.  After our chat, the many “rooms”
of the fort gave people opportunities to do everything from having
conversations about city building to sharing special moments of creation and
fun with their families. 

Rolling through Florence - Accessibility

The Crazy Dames traveled through the cobble stoned streets of Florence with a wheelchair, gaining new perspectives on accessibility in cities. 

Placemaking / Fare Spazio at Giardiano Orticultura 

In partnership with Creative People in Florence (, we organized an art festival in Florence entitled Place Making / Fare Spazio. Through an Open Call, Crazy Dames and CPF selected over 20 artists and performers to participate and reflect on the role of public space in order to create conversations on how we choose to design, interact and play with our city. 

The festival was preceded by a ‘How to Build a Blanket Fort’ workshop, our third iteration to date. Joined by a young family and a few artists, we collectively determined a vision. With Sara in a wheelchair, a key focus was to ensure accessibility.  As we were building, the originally shy 7 year old took on the leadership role, alleviating the rest of us from the daunting task of project management. She artfully coordinated a group of adults to build the fort in a way that accommodated a high ceiling, a window view to the park and a hammock for her to sleep in. As we were building the fort, a few passers-by  asked if this was a comment on the refugee situation or poverty. We had been asked this at the Gardiner Museum as well. One woman who came by told us she lived in a tent nearby. She helped us make the blanket fort while we discussed the stigma that came with homelessness. 

Once the fort was built, we continued the conversation about social equity in the City and this led to a discussion on preservation in Florence. Florence, Italy is one of (if not the) oldest planned cities in the world with stringent rules on historical preservation. Many of the building are empty and ideas for how Florence could better support contemporary art or as housing for the homeless emerged. Participants said the conversation sparked ideas of how to play a more active role in animating their public spaces and how to rethink the use of the existing buildings.

Later on in the evening, new participants joined - participants from the US, Canada, China, Philippines, Belgium and Italy. We shared stories about places we loved from our childhood. Many memories related to the love of isolated and open natural spaces. We discussed how cities can best recreate these places or provide access to them.

Buurland - The unintentional, intentional community in Utrecht, Netherlands

Jennie wheeled Sara over to Amsterdam where they spent most of the time in the hospital, the Van Gogh museum and watching Con Air. Sara was able to escape to Buurland for an evening with her friends Talia and Carlo. 

Buurland, Utrecht is a vibrant, inclusive, affordable and active community originally formed by happenstance. Four block of 1950s social housing apartments, overlooking two courtyards (yes, courtyards are a thing in Europe) were up for sale to a condo developer in the early 2000s. Before the deal was finalized, the financial crisis hit and the investors pulled out. The social housing department leased the site to the nearby University, which rents the apartments at an incredibly affordable price. That’s when a dear friend Carlo and his friends decided to move in. Starting with a few friends in the block, they began to transform the space, thinking about how they want their community to look like. If you could build your dream neighbourhood, what would be in it? Well, for this mid-20 friend group it included a large pool, a shared community garden, a chicken coup, a bartering post, a hot tub and a pizza oven. It also included an annual street party/festival that included the entire neighbourhood as well as outside guests. And aesthetically, they transformed the area as well - getting the landlords to spring for coloured paint, the eccentric colours of the apartments match the vibrancy of the neighbourhood. This not-so-intentional, intentional community tried to buy the property in 2010, raising money and media attention. What will come of Buurland? Will people relocate as a community? How can the grassroots, temporary and improvisational neighbourhood live on?  The residents are still trying to figure that out… 

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