Kids co-create art for climate anxiety

Journey through magical worlds dreamed up by children, meet a friendly trash creature, and learn how to recognise and manage feelings of climate anxiety these school holidays. 

Artists Briony Farrell and Christian Taylor engaged children in creative writing, design and puppet-making to co-create a show called Polypropylene Dreams through ArtPlay’s New Ideas Lab.  

The show was inspired by the school strikes and catastrophic bushfires of recent years, which have seen children become more vocal participants in the debate and activism around climate change. 

For Polypropylene Dreams, the artists decided to focus on climate anxiety and grief, and engaged a child psychologist as a mentor to help them address these themes in a healthy way.  

‘The show invites the audience to consider what anxiety feels like, bodily and psychologically, and what to do when you have those experiences,’ Christian said. 

‘We tried to reframe anxiety as something neither good nor bad, but rather your body trying to protect you. We hope this encourages conversations between parents and kids.’ 

During the development workshops, Briony and Christian were surprised at how much kids already knew about climate change, animal extinction and greenhouse gases, even at the age of five. 

They enjoyed choreographing the children’s ideas into a meaningful, fantastical adventure featuring magical worlds, cabbage farts and even a ‘llamacorn’ made out of pollution. 

‘Children have no filter, so they are very candid. The characters and set pieces they came up with blew my mind. I was in admiration and slightly jealous that I’ve lost that ability to imagine wildly,’ Christian said. 

‘Our role was to say yes, and they loved having an adult endorse their ideas and ask them to dream even bigger.’ 

After the live performance, five children who had participated in the workshops were waiting for Briony and Christian outside the theatre. 

‘The kids looked so proud of themselves and they were full of ideas for what we could make next and how we could improve,’ Briony said. 

‘It made me realise that this project did exactly what we had hoped, giving the children agency to talk about their feelings around climate change.  

‘We hope that if anxious feelings come up in future maybe they’ll feel a little bit more empowered to start conversations with their parents and friends.’ 

The New Ideas Lab funding allowed Briony and Christian to develop Polypropylene Dreams over the course of a year, with logistical support and encouragement from ArtPlay’s team of experts in child-led art. 

‘I have always been really interested in making work for and with young people, and I loved the idea of the long-form collaboration offered through the New Ideas Lab,’ Briony said. 

‘Now that I’ve worked this way, it’s the only way I’d want to make work for children. The show became their show, they were so deeply involved.’ 

Looking to the future, when COVID-19 allows, Christian and Briony would like to take Polypropylene Dreams on tour, or perhaps replicate the creative process on a smaller scale with schools. 

While the pandemic has taken its toll on their creative careers, both artists are now pursuing their passion for arts-in-education through roles with Regional Arts Victoria. Christian is also studying environmental science. 

‘Ultimately, Polypropylene Dreams is about the power of having hope,’ Briony said. 

‘Hope is an active thing, it’s not wishful thinking or optimism in the face of inaction, it’s engaged, and it starts with small things,’ Christian said. 

You can watch Polypropylene Dreams online until 26 September. 

Want more arty experiences for kids these school holidays? Check out what’s on at ArtPlay to discover more COVID-safe creative activities, including Feather Quest and A Rain Walk, which can be delivered by post.