The Power of Play invites people into the whirlpool stirred by two years of creative collaboration among artists, scientists, their organizer, a documentarian, a sculptor-fabricator, and the Ucross Foundation support that made this long collaboration and installation possible. The installation has fascinating backstories, captured in the documentary that is shown within the tour of twenty experiences offered here. The collaboration has resulted in real effects for those involved, including new poetry, sculpture, dance,microbiology,music,sagebrush ecology,and pollinator and insect studies, including performances by the Colorado Chamber Orchestra, two National Science Foundation grants, and a mixed-media triptych. But the work and play these collaborators have stirred for two years is not simply a means to their new art or insight. The movement of play itself is what they offer us here. For the first time, the collaborators have made an environment that brings others into the whirlpool with them,to feel,hear,write,see,move,think and dream – all the powers that already move through us every day. Play is serious business. Play is how children learn. Play is how adults continue to grow and change. It matters that play is open-ended, or we could neither enjoy nor learn from it. There may be rules or limits—bishops can only move diagonally, or if you touch that tree you are home-free—but outcomes can’t be predicted. The order of play reshuffles (like cards) what we know. It’s no fun to play with cards already arranged in order—there is no game,no real engagement, without that crucial burst of disorder, confusion, openness to possibility. “Child’s-play” isn’t easy; any of us might remember its harder, weirder, ecstatic lessons, the world made by trust, risk, competence, vulnerability, creation and mess, who we were becoming in mobile relationships with rocks, pencils, animals, sticks, spoons, trees, people. It’s not for nothing that memories of play follow us into our later lives, and not just nostalgia that brings us back to them. Gregory Bateson, a profoundly serious-playful 20th-century ecologist, said that learning and evolution were the two great stochastic processes—unpredictable, open-ended, following complex rules that allow rather than determine, opening thefuturetochange,andaboveallrelatedtooneanother(MindandNature1979). Both learning and evolution operate by means of “play”—open, experimental engagement in a world that already is, anticipating the new. Becoming. Bateson reminded us too that muddles matter—being confused,challenged,or mistaken (Steps to an Ecology of Mind 1972). Without shuffling the cards, there is no real play. Without contact and exchange, there is no adaptation. Without engaging others and the world openly, there is no new thing to think, feel, or be, as persons, groups, ecologies. The Power of Play collaborators could have been content to show us what they made in their serious play, and some of that is on display in these exhibits: poems as well as NSF grant success (both laser-engraved on wood) musical scores and sound recordings, an operatic libretto written by a geologist, a website, microbestiary.org , all products of cross-currents among these now- close companions in insight. But they have done much more than that here. The most obvious invitation into the whirlpool is the dining room table set for six in the middle of the gallery. What does one do at a dining room table? Pull out a chair and sit, perhaps. Consider the placemats - beautifully laser-engraved with aphorisms about play, intuition, rules - and the glasses, for wine or water, here with pens, to write anything one might wish on the placemats. On one hand, these are things we might do every day: pull out a chair and sit, take a pen and write.This table is special. It serves food for thought, through gleaming glass plates with the words of the placemats beneath, other visitors’ comments and questions on the thick paper, and the sound recording of collaborators themselves talking over dinner during their residency at Ucross in 2014.We can listen to them, read the placemats, searching for the meaning of what these all say to each other. But we can also take an important cue, the central key to The Power of Play: every table is such a table; every dinner conversation or meal in solitude is a creative act. It is the very nature of every day life to invite us to insight and creation. Experimental composer John Cage wrote, “Inspiration is not a special occasion” (Silence 1961). In this spirit, visitors learn a bit about how microbes are named, and might work through the sound of the “official” names (which, though Latin, are simply descriptive), look at large-format photos of microbes, and use their own impressions to complete a microbe haiku on printed sticky-notes at a small desk: "Gemmata obscuriglobus: Chambered dark gene-whorl/", to which one visitor added, “notes twist and turn, echo, then/slur, staccato, fall.” This isn’t just about either microbes or haiku, really, but about the thrill and care, joy, of playing in words, notably near some of the soundscapes offered by music and other sounds in the gallery. On a refrigerator door, visitors can arrange magnet photos of microbes with ordinary words in English, to name a microbe, call it as they see it: “rubbery satellite,” or “elegant fancy trapdoor device,” “semi- compartment budding lens.” As with the table and chairs, our own refrigerator doors are occasions to arrange, in ways that please and inform us, the words, pictures, bits of receipts or fortune-cookie wisdom that speak to us, and in fact speak us, so close to our food, what we allow to make us. Powder River Play makes the most basic elements of water and rock available to make sound and sound patterns. Of course, rocks and water live with us everywhere—the sounds they make are ambient in our lives, a soundworld of astonishing complexity. The toy piano supplied with tiles depicting sagebrush steppe plants, allows us to play, in sound, with patterns of plants we might see every day. Unlike a concert piano, the toy piano invites rather than overwhelms. Anyone can play it. And again, the cue is to notice how we make and arrange sound,how we make and “read”patterns anywhere,whether we are accomplished musicians or not. Or, with a landscape photo with all the sagebrush removed, we are asked to arrange small sagebrush magnets in any pattern that makes sense to us. One might notice how easy it is to create simple order—a line of sagebrush in a row—and how much stranger and more time and thought it takes to make a “random”arrangement, or one that approximates the elaborate, complex order of actual sagebrush in a landscape.This quality of engaging what we know without thinking much about, is true of the exhibits based on dance, movement, and dance notation too. We move, we are moved, and we can always pay (more) attention. Just as the dining room table brings us centrally into the exhibit, Table as Setting shows that everything going on in the exhibit is connected,related,cross-currents of visitors’ insight and experience collecting in one place in response to the collaborators, and other visitors. A large mixed-media sculpture of a sagebrush root system reaches muscularly down to the floor and nimbly around the corner, with a box of paper rootlets to pick out, write on, and add to the tangle. What is “underground” is made visible, as it really is, if we open our attention. What matters to people, how they play, how they hold back, what they choose to play with, becomes part of the exhibit, from very specific names and dates, to hopes and dreams, incantatory lists. It is all arresting, singular, much of it ephemeral, from the sounds in the gallery to the dance movement we might follow or create. Quite a lot like life, and just as revelatory. Museums of every kind have included “interactive” exhibits in their displays, notably since Dr. Frank Oppenheimer (of nuclear science fame with his brother Robert, and a public school teacher after losing his university job as a result of the House Un-American Activities Committee’s harassment) opened his Exploratorium in San Francisco in 1969, to teach science as broadly and joyfully as possible through active engagement. Faced with muddle of life-changing proportions, Oppenheimer wanted to reinvent science education. Art, natural history and science have become much more accessible to visitors, including children,through hands-on activities designed to teach.And it is notable that all the collaborators that made The Power of Play are teachers. But the The Power of Play is not just teaching.The interactions on offer have more in common with the arts movement Fluxus from the 1950s through the 1970s, the public-made events and happenings, including the experiments in found objects and sound in which composer John Cage thought and worked so deeply. When Yoko Ono created an occasion for visitors to hammer nails into a wooden panel (Painting to Hammer a Nail, a piece made by visitors only on her prompt, with a panel, a hammer and box of nails provided, conceived in 1961), the art at hand was literally in the hands of the visitors. Ono heightened engagement with ordinary activity, which in the end belongs to all of us. About what music is,Cage noted in his 1957 lecture “Experimental Music,”“the answer must take the form of a paradox: a purposeful purposelessness or a purposeless play. This play, however, is an affirmation of life –not an attempt to bring order out of chaos nor suggest improvements in creation, but simply waking up to the very life we’re living, which is so excellent once one gets one’s mind and one’s desires out of its way and lets it act of its own accord.” The Power of Play is exactly such an affirmation of life. Frieda Knobloch Play? Seriously. Frieda Knobloch is author of Botanical Companions: A Memoir of Plants and Place (American Land and Life Series, Iowa 2005), which follows the lives and practice of botany of two University of Wyoming botanists, Ruth and Aven Nelson. She is Professor of American Studies and Director of the American Studies Program at the University of Wyoming.