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The Play Gap

In Providence, Rhode Island, Janice McDonnell started one of the unlikeliest of revolutions. On seven empty lots in the inner city, she set up a new kind of playground—places where kids could build anything they want, break anything they want. Her larger goals? To fight the disappearance of free play brought on by the relentless testing that’s become the norm in today’s schools—and to spread playful opportunities to all children, not just those from wealthy white families.


San Francisco’s “Last Black Calligrapher” Invites You to Go Deeper

Hunter Saxony III imbues his lettering work with layers of meaning, while also intentionally leaving it open to interpretation. In the process, he’s taking an age-old, traditional art form in a new direction. One summer morning in 2018, the artist currently known as Hunter Saxony III sat down in his San Francisco studio with eight…

The Rise and Fall of Toy Theatre

In the depths of London, a “toy theatre” born in the 1800s continues to stage regular performances. In their heyday, these productions drew London’s top writers and artists, creating Victorian England’s version of the modern PR campaign. Replicas of these miniature theatres are still for sale.


Listen to “The Rise and Fall of Toy Theatre”

In 19th-century England, miniature theatrical productions were all the rage. And they weren’t just for kids—children and adults alike collected intricately printed paper cutouts of their favorite stage actors, along with paper versions of the theatres in which they performed, and acted out famous plays. Beyond just entertainment, these toy theatre kits served as the…

Venice and the High Art of the Mask

Many cultures have enjoyed the playful freedom that one feels after donning a mask. But no place has taken it to greater extremes, both elegant and diabolical, than Venice. A tour of the world of Venetian masks, and the annual Carnival mega-party they have inspired.


Listen to “The Puppeteer”

Michael Montenegro is driven to put the products of his imagination into tangible, active forms. After he builds them—often in life-size form, with a rag-tag collage of materials—he becomes them, lives inside them, then delivers them to us with a zany vigor.

Tomorrow’s Library

In a simple, residential neighborhood in San Francisco sits a former church for Christian Scientists. The building’s white exterior and massive columns give it a stately, antiquated look. But behind its doors sit stacks of servers, which contain billions upon billions of web pages, media, and other delights. This is the Internet Archive. In today’s…

The Healing Power of “Bello”

On the Northeastern coast of Italy, not far from such meccas of refinement as Bologna and Florence, an unusual drug treatment community named San Patrignano has grown and thrived for more than 40 years. The program’s methodology? Teach people who are struggling with addiction high-level artisanal skills, and slowly but surely, confidence and pride fill what was once a desperate void.


Listen to “Let Tinkerbell Tinker”

As the economy’s reliance on innovation grows, the offering of toys for girls remains–well, somewhat less than innovative. Fortunately, a few smart women are starting to solve this problem by reviving the time-honored principles of tinkering, this time for girls.

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