How Art Saved a Playground

28 October 4:00 am
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How Art Saved a Playground

This is a guest blog post from John Hofland of


Near the center of Kyiv, the capitol of Ukraine, in the shadow of a large building, is a small playground planted with trees and flowers. In front of the playground are four statues of four birds:

an owl,

a kingfisher,

a raven, and

a sparrow that has just escaped from the cage below it.

The plaques below each bird tells us that

intellectuals remember the past

intellectuals give dignity

intellectuals raise up the present, and

intellectuals preserve the future.

For the normal passerby, placing these statues in front of a playground for kids would be odd. What do intellectuals, after all, have to do with kids at play?

In this case, the answer is that intellectuals – and the birds that portray their importance – have EVERYTHING to do with the kids playing here.

Here is the story of how how four statues preserved a playground.

Money, they say, is power, and in the city of Kyiv, political power and wealth have tended to go hand in hand. Money has been able to buy votes and political positions; political positions, in turn, have offered opportunities to increase ones wealth.

It happened, not too many years ago, that a wealthy politician decided to build a high-rise building on the site of this little playground. Nearby residents were appalled! Playgrounds in the city center are few.

Where would their children be able to play if this quiet, colorful playground were destroyed? How could they fight back? The developer had more money and power than all of the nearby residents combined.

Now, you must understand that Ukrainians value art. To a Ukrainian, art is not just for decoration. Art gives one a sense of identity. Art is central to life in this city.

And one other thing: Ukrainians value learning.

So the citizens living around the playground fought back – not with money or political power – but with art. They enlisted the help of a sculptor, who created the four sculptures and placed them in front of the playground before development could begin.

And then they got every form of publicity they could find to tell the story of their art. Suddenly the wealthy, powerful developer was not just destroying a playground. He was destroying art, and it was art that extolled the value of learning.

In other words, if he were to touch the sculptures, he’d be destroying the cultural foundations of the city!

And what would that say about the developer? Anyone destroying a symbol of intelligence and learning MUST BE STUPID!.

As you can see, the developer abandoned his plans. There is no high-rise.

The statues are still standing. Like the statue of the sparrow that escaped its cage, the playground escaped destruction. Children still play in the garden-like playground. Art saved the day.

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