Urban Playground

The Urban Playground Challenge is an initiative of The School, a post-academic residency that aims to explore how art and design, in collaboration with city institutions and communities, can improve public life in Hasselt. The challenge area was set by the Department of Sport in the city of Hasselt, and focused around the urban renewal of an inner-city playground at Sint-Jansplein.

Our approach to this project was multi-faceted, involving various artistic outcomes over a staggered timeline to activate the area, we putting the spotlight on Sint-Jansplein to show what is possible when artists, designers, local residents and the city collaborate to renew the neglected playground. Our three pillars of activity which anchored the various interventions and approaches to this challenge were focused around curiosity, connectivity and play.

Initiated by Virginia Lui with Serena Chalker and significant help from Hanne Keirse, Pablo Hannon and Yousra Rifi, the team created fortnightly meetings at the local Cafe Drossaerd together with neighbours and the neighbourhood manager from the city. Meetings took place during the months of Feburary up to April. Initially created to plan the 1st Urban Playground Festival, the community meetings grew into a platform for the neighbours to share their concerns, questions and plans for the future for the neighbourhood. These meetings were also attended by Weg Manager Ilse Hoogemartens, and over the period approximately 25 individuals participated in the meetings.


With the vision to create a better neighbourhood by having the community work together utilising their own expertise/skills, different archetypes (roles) were formed. These roles allowed the neighbours to identify skills in the team, and to create a sense of empowerment and importance for the contribution of each person in the meeting. It was also proposed during the first meeting to build the Facebook group “Sint-Jansbuurt” in order to have a platform to share ideas and help to organise the festival. The focus of “play” for the festival was designed to coincide with the renovation of the basketball court, and to encourage play and participation from members of the community of all ages.


The School also actively worked to include and nurture ideas from the community about how the area could be better utilised for the future. This spirit of optimism helped to empower the neighbours to reclaim ownership of the space, proposing new ideas for how the square could be renewed, beyond the time frame of the Urban Playground Festival. These future plans focused around mobility and traffic management, the layout of the square, the relationship between the hotel and catering industry and businesses in the neighborhood, as well as protecting children playing on Sint-Jansplein.


Festival Coordinator: Hanne Kierse and Serena Chalker
External Coordinator: Pablo Hannon
Graphics and Basketball Field design: Iris van der Heijden
Community Outreach: Virginia Lui and Serena Chalker with Pablo Hannon, Hanne Kierse and Yousra Rifi
Visual Artist: Deana Kolencikova
Community Participants: Jan Thys, Dominique Froyen, Tina Vandormael, Moammar Wardeh, Mieke Froyen, Harpreet Grewal, Frank Grottis, Claudia Vanardennen, Anton Clijmans, Jeroen Evens, Ilse Hogemartens, Marjolien Eerdekens


An Initiative of the Urban Playground Challenge Gemeenschapswacht (2018) Opposite the offices of Vlaams Belang – Community watch is a playful provocation of the presence of a right-wing Flemish Nationalist political party opposite an urban playground in Hasselt. Just as the office is positioned to watch and provoke the community (in an area of mixed … Continue reading Gemeenschapswacht

Urban Telescope

Urban Telescope (2018) – Serena Chalker and Deana Kolencikova For the 1st Urban Playground Festival, Serena and Deana designed an urban telescope, a play on the typical tourist telescopes in popular vacation places, that was placed on the square. This telescope was created for the neighbours to see and experience the area in a new … Continue reading Urban Telescope