Touch mural, make sound: new Urban Conga project entices play

A walk along Snow Avenue in South Tampa’s Hyde Park Village finds a funky mix of shops, foodie stops and spots of shade -- not unlike what one might find in lots of other urban settings. 

But take a peek behind the restaurant bartaco -- in a creative new space that once sat vacant -- and you’ll find the opportunity to experience the kind of unabashed glee you may not have felt for awhile. Shucks, you may even end up wanting to spend hours just playing, with or without kids.

That’s the goal!
 
Welcome to Ambient Play, Urban Conga’s latest project, which transforms an empty storefront into an interactive, multi-media, indoor playground. The installation aims to get people to not only come to the area to shop, but to stop, socialize and create community. 

You’ll find a ping pong table and a special mural created by St. Petersburg artists Sebastian Coolidge and Justin Wagher. The mural includes touch sensors that use conductive paint to play sounds when you touch the art.
  
“The whole installation is about people coming together through sight, sound and touch. It’s breaking out of their shell, putting their phones down, and engaging with one another in space,” says Ryan Swanson, co-Founder of Urban Conga. 

Coolidge and Wagher each painted a separate mural that is intertwined on a third wall. With 12 different sounds on each wall, participants can creative an interactive work of art by touching different areas and hearing noises that correspond with the artwork – such as a lion’s nose that makes a roar or a fish eye that makes a crazy cat noise.
 
The reaction so far? Mostly “wow!’’ 

“People are blown away with the conductive ink,” says Swanson, noting that the social aspect of the project really flourished on opening night, which drew in people of all ages and walks of life. Since the space is not labeled as a playground, it tends to break away from the stereotype that play is just for kids. 

“That’s the biggest thing about introducing play into public spaces. It begins to open it up for everyone to play.”

The installation opened July 8 in Hyde Park Village and runs through September 25. In the last month, crayons will be introduced so people can color the space like a one would in a coloring book.

Linking an idea to concept to design to reality

Urban Conga started in 2013, when three architecture students at the University of South Florida set out to help people rediscover play. 

The idea was to create installations in public places that are cool, yet functional, to get people on their feet and interacting socially. 

The team sought out underutilized spaces in downtowns, such as old buildings and parks, and created interactive art that would bring activity to the area, help people come out of their shells and convince them that play isn’t just for kids. 

Urban Conga's creations stimulate minds and exercise bodies through play.

So far, projects have included:
  • “Projecting Fun,” which used a Kinect game to project body movements onto a five-story abandoned wagon wheel building on Franklin Street in Tampa. 
  • An installation at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg allowed people to play musical bats to the tune of “Take me out to the ball game” or use a giant 3-dimensional puzzle to create their own mascot. 
  • An installation at Lights on Tampa in downtown Tampa called Urban Pixels created tetrahedrons that light up and attach to one another magnetically, allowing participants to create toys.
Urban Conga also is working with cities outside of the Tampa Bay region, such as with the Riverwalk Fort Lauderdale where they installed a musical bench system that turned seating into marimbas.

Read more articles by Megan Hendricks.

Megan Hendricks is a feature writer at 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.
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