Rochester Conference at The Strong National Museum of Play the First Time the International Group has Met in the United States

Rochester, NY. – The International Toy Research Association (ITRA) is preparing to host its 9th World Conference in Rochester, NY, August 9-11. 2023. The upcoming conference, “Toys Matter: The Power of Playthings,” marks the first time this international association has hosted its annual conference in the United States. Rochester was a natural choice for this conference thanks to the city being the proud home of The Strong National Museum of Play.

The 2023 International Toy Research Association World Conference takes place August 9-11 in Rochester. 100 attendees from around the world will attend. Every aspect of professional and scientific toy research will be represented, including academics, doctoral students, educators, museum professionals, toy & game designers, members of the toy & game trade including retailers, and anyone interested in toy and game research. 

The Strong National Museum of Play is the host location for the ITRA World Conference. The Strong houses the world’s largest collection of toys, games, puzzles, electronic games, and play-related items in the world. It’s also home to the Brian Sutton-Smith Library and Archives of Play, which houses nearly 200,000 materials related to the history and study of play, including Sutton-Smith’s personal archives. (Sutton-Smith was the leading play scholar of the last century.)

“We chose Rochester as the first-ever U.S. host destination for the ITRA World Conference because it is the home of The Strong National Museum of Play and the Brian Sutton-Smith Library and Archives of Play,” said Dr. Greta Pennell, ITRA VP & Conference Chair. “Brian was a founding member of ITRA and so when the idea of holding a world conference outside of Europe was proposed, The Strong and Rochester was a natural choice.” 

De. Pennell added, “In addition to this close historical connection, The Strong’s mission and vision complement and support ITRA’s purpose and aspirations as the internationally recognized source for research that examines the historical and cultural importance of playthings throughout our lives and worlds. Several ITRA members have been research fellows at The Strong over the last decade so the foundation for a mutual relationship was already established.”

This 3-day conference is poised to shine a global spotlight on cutting edge toy research, design, and pedagogy. From antiquities to AI, baby dolls to board games, character toys to card games, toys in museums to the marketplace and more. ITRA’s 9th World Conference features keynote speakers, workshops, symposia and more than 80 paper presentations by scholars from more than 20 countries across 6 continents.

“We’re honored to be chosen as the site for ITRA’s first conference in North America and to be able to share our extensive collections and resources with their many members,” said Christopher Bensch, The Strong’s vice president for collections. “This is further proof that the museum—and Rochester—has become the epicenter for play studies worldwide.”

Founded in 1993, ITRA is the longest standing professional research association dedicated specifically to the transdisciplinary scientific study of toys, games, and other types of playthings.  The specific focus on the toys themselves rather than on play sets ITRA apart from other professional associations.  The conference brings toy scholars and designers from around the world together to discuss research, collaborate and exchange information with in order to critically examine the power of playthings and the many ways they matter -- for both children and adults. The conference also celebrates the International Toy Research Association’s 30th anniversary.


Toys Matter: The Power of Playthings

The overall conference theme “Toys Matter:  The Power of Playthings” starts with the view that, as the tools of serious fun, toys have the power to inspire, to promote learning and skill development, to forge and maintain connections with others, and to open new worlds of possibilities. At the same time, it isn’t always fun and games in Toyland. Toys are also used to grieve, to console, and to cope. They can afford comfort during lockdowns or in the aftermath of natural and human-made disasters. In the face of social unrest or geopolitical turmoil, they can be transformed into instruments of protest and resistance. The power of playthings is multi-layered and multi-faceted. Toys empower and heal. However, they can also oppress and harm. From safety concerns, to environmental and psychological impacts, to the question of who is represented and how, the quality and characteristics of toys matter.

Conference highlights include the following:

  • Keynote presentation (Wednesday August 9, 2023 at 9 AM) by noted toy expert and designer, Tim Walsh.  Tim is a 33-year veteran of the toy industry, and began his toy career at Patch Products (now PlayMonster) as its VP of Product Development & Marketing. In 2010, Tim coproduced the award-winning documentary Toyland. In 2016, he co-produced and co-directed OPERATION: The Power of Play with Peggy Brown. In 2020, Tim launched Roo Games with toy industry veterans Dennis Callaghan and Scott Brown and also launched a new YouTube channel celebrating toy and game designers.
  • Behind the scenes tour of The Strong’s collections with Christopher Bensch, VP for Collections.
  • Closing Keynote presentation (Friday August 11 2 PM) by Paul Darvasi, CEO and co-founder of Gold Bug Interactive, a digital design studio that leverages games and interactive media for education and social justice. Paul is also faculty at Royal St. George's College in Toronto, Canada.
  • Conference sessions will run between 8:30 AM and 7:30 PM (19:30) UTC/GMT-4 daily.  One-day registration ($90) is available through The Strong’s online store.


About International Toy Research Association
The International Toy Research Association (ITRA) is an association, which was created in 1993 for the purpose of promoting, stimulating and encouraging toy and plaything research all over the world in order to broaden and spread knowledge about toys and promote the development of good toys for children. ITRA further aims to support and cooperate with local, national, and international organizations having the same purposes, to organize and arrange meetings and issue publications concerning the purpose of the association. The International Toy Research Association currently comprises 96 members from 23 countries. ITRA is run by an executive Board, which is elected every three years in ITRA conferences.


About The Strong
The Strong is the only collections-based museum in the world devoted solely to the history and exploration of play. It is home to the International Center for the History of Electronic Games, the National Toy Hall of Fame, the World Video Game Hall of Fame, the Brian Sutton-Smith Library and Archives of Play, the Woodbury School, and the American Journal of Play and houses the world’s largest and most comprehensive collection of historical materials related to play.