The Red Swing Project [Watch]

Founded by a UT alum, the Red Swing Project is spreading playfulness around the globe with a few feet of wood, some rope, and a little red paint.

The first time I saw a red swing I was 16. It was hanging from a large oak tree outside the Menil Collection in Houston, painted the color of a fire truck with a few stenciled white details: a cartoon image of a child swinging, the number “054” in blocky print, and a URL directing people to

After spending a few moments rowing through the humid air on Swing 054, I went to the website in search of an explanation. I suppose I assumed that the swing was an art project of sorts, as I had come upon it outside a museum. Regardless of whether the 18-inch-long, strung-up piece of 2-by-6 was art, the number painted on its side had incited an odd, warm bubbling sensation in my chest—the hope that there might be more swings in other places, and that maybe I could find out where they were.RedSwingProject_MorattandiIndia

On the website—which described the project as a form of “urban intervention”—I found a numbered list of swings and their locations. There was even one at an intersection just five minutes from my house. I was elated, but also a little confounded: there was no public park or recreation space near that crossing. The only grassy spot in the area I could think of was the median strip—and that, of course, was no place for a swing.

But the median’s dreariness was also what made it a perfect place for this particular swing. In 2007, Andrew Danziger, BS ’09, had an architecture class assignment to propose an urban intervention in Austin. The goal was to think about public art in unexpected ways. One classmate dreamed up a blank traffic sign; another suggested putting a bench at a bus stop that lacked one. Danziger hit on the idea of installing swings in surprising places, and then he went beyond the assignment by actually doing it.

One of the first swings Danziger and his friends hung was on Guadalupe near the School of Architecture. Within hours, an Austin police officer took it down. “But before he did,” Danziger says with a hint of pride, “he swung on it.”

RedSwingProject_NewOrleansInitially, Danziger hung all the swings himself, chronicling their locations online. Then he posted a YouTube video showing anyone willing to spend the time and money (a whopping $2) how to make and hang their own red swing. He stayed anonymous for years, only revealing himself as the creator last winter. “I wanted to play with the idea of authorship,” he says. “I didn’t want it to be about me. Now I’m hardly hanging any swings, and the project has taken on a life of its own.”

In 2008 he expanded the project internationally, hanging swings first in India and, the following year, in France, Spain, and Portugal. By 2013, more than 250 Red Swings had appeared across the globe, from Thailand to Brazil, Haiti to Australia, Poland to Taiwan. Some cities saw the swings as vandalism, while others embraced them. “In Washington Square Park in New York, a swing was taken down within 15 minutes,” Danziger says, “but in Udaipur, India, a shopkeeper closed down his shop to go hang a swing in a temple.”

REDSWINGPROJECT_India2As the project has grown from its roots at the University, it’s gained international recognition. Red swings have been featured in art and design exhibits in Venice and New York. Texans have embraced the hometown project, too: in 2012, Art Alliance Austin commissioned the Red Swing Project to hang swings downtown.

But official accolades are merely one indicator of the Red Swing Project’s success. By hanging swings in the most unexpected places, Danziger and his collaborators effectively transform some of the grimmest locales into veritable public parks.

I asked Red Swing collaborator Trevor Cook, BS ’13, if there was a particular swing that he thought best exemplified the mission of the project. He told me about several swings that he and Andrew hung beneath an East Austin bridge. It was an unremarkable spot with an ominous history.

“While we were hanging the swings, this family that lived nearby came over to thank us,” Cook recalls. “They said that someone had discovered a dead body under the bridge not too long before that, and that they had actively avoided the space ever since.” But with the addition of just a few Red Swings, he explained, a bleak underpass became a park that people actually use.

Two weeks after I graduated from UT, I hung my first red swing. It was the last night in May and already as hot as August, and I could feel my grip on the plank loosen with sweat as I scoured North Campus for suitable trees. I passed a number of smallish oaks that looked promising from a distance, but upon further inspection I found that none would hold the weight of my swing—or all the strangers I hoped would use it.

RedSwingProject_ChicagoAfter an hour of wandering, I found a tree with branches that met my requirements: sturdy and not too high, so it would be possible to toss the rope to the other side. It took countless tries to get the rope up, over, and through the tangle of branches, and by the time I finally figured out the knots—with the help of a pocket-sized instruction manual—I realized my swing was slanting to one side. It dangled too close to the grass and looked amateur at best. When I sat down to test it out, the   swing rocked back and forth this way and that.

But at least it was hanging, from a tree planted right next to another—a smaller one with wispy low-lying branches, which encircled a perfect alcove for that bit of bright blushing red. There it was, like a scarlet bit of magic: a red swing dangling by itself, waiting for somebody to find it.

From top: A red swing underneath Austin’s East Seventh Street overpass; Young boys enjoy a red swing in Morattandi, India; A passerby swings in New Orleans; Children play on a red swing in Mumbai, India; An installation in Chicago.

Credits, from top: Blake Gordon; Andrew Danzinger


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