Creating the Secret Spaces installation in the Useum

Monday, September 24, 2012

Creating the Useum installation at the Burchfield Penney Art Center was a rewarding adventure! Secret Spaces is an interactive art space that invites visitors to engage their imaginations through the building of blanket forts. Kari Achatz, my Useum partner, and I have been blogging about our collaborative journey since Secret Spaces was just a concept, this is the first opportunity I have had to reflect upon the process that gave life to our ideas.

Since the creation of Secret Spaces, I have had several opportunities to observe and converse with our visitors. It seemed that so often parents would talk about their love of building blanket forts as a child, yet confessed to not building them at home with their own children. Many have said that after visiting they will now pull out the blankets at home and keep building, giving their children the chance to keep exercising their imaginations. The room allows parents to work in tandem with their children to build the biggest forts possible, yet when the adults step aside and let the children play their structures never failed to impress.

It always amazed me to see children who have never met, introduce themselves to each other and work together to build their forts. The forts the children built were often much lower to the ground incorporating the spaces under the tables and desks. Their patchwork blanket canopies often left holes to peek out of that exposed proud smiles. It was an honor when kids would ask me to try out their forts and experience their vision. I loved every rocket ship, downtown cityscape, and underground tunnel they built.

One of the most interesting collaborations that took place throughout the exhibit was between the adults in the room. When families got together in the space, It was amazing to hear the conversations about materials they used when they were young, techniques that worked best, and witness the enthusiasm that at times surpassed that of the children. The adults would often build complex forts that reached to the highest points of the room, connected series of blankets through tight knots that held strong, all while conversing about secrets found on the walls and how they could relate to them.

When walking into the room now as the installation is coming to a close, it feels as if the walls are speaking a collective story. Personal stories about secret spaces that range from emotional confessions to humorous quips are layered amongst illustrations and doodles. Some stories are hidden in drawers and tucked in corners, but others are out in the open exposed for all to see. I want to thank everyone who joined Kari and I in this massive collaboration, you all helped to make our imagined space become a reality. Secret Spaces will be open until September 30th, please stop by, use your imagination and share your story.


Nick Napierala received his master’s degree in Art Education at Buffalo State College. He is a painter and an Art Teacher at Smallwood Drive School in the Amherst Central School District.