A Year of Play at SC4A

Play is more than just fun—it’s a necessity to thrive.

This is an idea Saugatuck Center for the Arts strongly believes in and has put at the forefront of their 2024 season. Every year, the innovative West Michigan arts organization focuses all educational programming on a single theme, and this year, they’re going to unpack what it means to play. Not just for children, but for all ages!


In the 21st Century, people have started to really take play seriously. Dr. Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play, has dedicated his career to exploring and discussing the benefits, as well as what happens when we’re play-deprived. Because the opposite of play isn’t work—it’s depression.

““Play is as basic as sleep and nutrition,” Brown said. “It just doesn’t necessarily produce the same outcomes as hunger or fatigue. But the need to play is there in all of us. And we all have deficits when we don’t experience it sufficiently.”

As SCA points out, mental health is an incredibly important issue at the moment. Recent reports have shown record levels of sadness, especially in young women. Luckily, research also shows that active play can disarm depression, anxiety and even aggression. 

It breaks down barriers beyond strangers and provides a safe space to interact via a shared understanding. Even wild animals that typically have a predator and prey relationship have been shown to get along and avoid harming each other when they enter a play state.

That’s a great start, but play has also been directly linked to creativity in numerous ways. Let’s take a look at Dr. Brown’s Properties of Play:

  • Purposelessness 
  • Voluntary nature 
  • Inherent attraction 
  • Freedom from time 
  • Diminished self-consciousness 
  • Improvisational potential
  • Continuation of desire 

To sum it up: Play is by choice, and it’s typically done for no real purpose beyond simply playing. But even if there’s not a specific goal, there’s still plenty utility. Research tells us that central to both play and creativity is divergent thinking. 

Together, play and creativity create a wonderful cycle, feeding off each other. According to 1000 Hours Outside, “it appears that play trains us to handle the unexpected, encouraging flexibility and creativity that becomes an advantage in new environments and situations.” 

And according to the book Your Brain on Art, “Just one art experience per month can extend your life by 10 years.” SCA Director of Exhibition and Education Whitney Valentine agrees, and says SCA is here to prove play can facilitate creativity.


Printmaking for Partners, Feb. 14
Two of the five forms of play (according to Dr. Brown) are Imaginative and Object Play, and this workshop brings those two together. Make art and meaningful memories with your partner, friend, or other special person by creating two-color prints in pairs—while also enjoying a specialty cocktail and holiday treats! Led by printmaker and owner of Flat Mountain Press, Trevor Grabill.

Art Out Loud, March 11-29
The annual Art Out Loud festival at the SCA is back again, offering a deep dive into a world of cultures, stories and traditions from across the globe. The big focus here is on outdoor exploration, whether it’s taking a lantern-lite hike on the Beach Trail, making hands-on art outdoor with The WiP (the center’s mobile art truck), or taking in the Mountainfilm On Tour screenings, which show people around the world playing, exploring and persisting.

The Roles We Play: Storytelling Workshop, April 18
Step into the world of storytelling with SCA’s esteemed 2024 Creative Fellow, Julie Ganey. Julie is an accomplished actor, writer and storyteller who has been performing and teaching in Chicago for more than 20 years. In this Moth-style workshop, you will learn to view your story through a new lens by developing a first-person narrative that focuses on themes of identity and the many roles we play in our own lives.

Adult Prom: Coronation Night, May 18
Get your boogie on with artist Jeffrey Augustine Songco at the grand finale of his spring exhibition, Mr. Society of 23. This exhibition is meant to make you feel like you’re onstage at a pageant, which should certainly spark the imagination. For the prom itself, gather your friends for an unforgettable evening on the dance floor with throwback tunes and more. You can even add on a pop of color and whimsy to your ensemble in a corsage or boutonniere building class before the prom!

Jump Into Summer, June 7
There’s perhaps no better place to play than this huge summer kick-off party. SCA is hoping to turn the outdoor area into one giant backyard party, with faux grass, lawn chairs, bubbles and much, much more. Expect live music, hands-on art, games to play—basically, endless fun and creativity!