Fun Palaces are about bringing arts and sciences, crafts and technologies together, making all culture accessible to all people – primarily by handing over curation of cultural engagement to the public. Over two weekends in 2014 and 2015, 5262 local people created 240 community Fun Palaces with 90,000 people taking part. These are great numbers for a tiny organisation that started just over three years ago and is run by a part-time team of four, but Fun Palaces are not only about engaging people in their own creativity and they are certainly not about building audiences, although that is often a happy by-product. Our joyous mission is to use culture as a catalyst to build community, encouraging people to step up and create participatory events by, for and with their own communities.
From our little office in south London we are quite clear that we have no idea what is best for communities the length and breadth of the UK, we have no intention of suggesting we have all the answers – we don’t even have many of them, but we know people who do. Local people, making Fun Palaces from within their own communities, for their own communities. We firmly believe that there is no austerity of brilliant people and it is by encouraging these people that we will discover not only new cultural leaders, but also a new culture – one that is genuinely for all, from all. A culture of full engagement and full participation.
So far, our statistics suggest we’re getting it right. After making their Fun Palace, 78% of Makers reported that they were proud of the area where their Fun Palace happened and 85% felt connected to their community. In 2015 our evaluation showed that Fun Palaces Makers come from all social groups and ethnic backgrounds, that our Makers reflect the demographic of the nation. We have also put together a dedicated Libraries Evaluation to celebrate the amazing 27% Fun Palaces that happened in libraries across the world in 2015.
We’re too new to have the full studies behind how this is happening, but anecdotally it appears we’re getting such inclusive engagement because we say yes to everyone. We welcome all-comers, big shiny venues and tiny local groups, individuals and corporations. We ask only that Fun Palaces be Free, Local, Innovative (doing something a venue or group wouldn’t usually do), Transformative (using a space differently, ideally more openly), and Engaging – we quite like it when they’re Easy too.
Because Fun Palaces can be so many different things, depending on who is running them, and where they happen, it can be easier to understand what Fun Palaces are not……
- A Fun Palace is not a fete. If there must be bunting, then let it be radical bunting, created by and of the community, telling the story of that community. If there must be face-painting, then give the paints to the kids and let them paint the grownups, or better still, in the spirit of combining art and science, let them paint bones and veins, sinews and nerves on their skin as people did at Brixton Library’s Fun Palace. Let them learn through doing.
- Fun Palaces are family-neutral. All too often, when we call something ‘family-friendly’, the teenagers back away, the 20-somethings head off, the elderly think it’s not for them, and parents push their kids forward but often don’t get involved themselves. Our idea of full participation is parents and kids making together, making alongside, it’s sixteen year olds and seventy year olds creating together as neighbours.
- Fun Palaces are not an alternative to centrally-funded support for local communities and local government. They are a way to shine a light on the enthusiasm of communities for culture, an opportunity to shout even louder about the value of culture to all people and the social cohesion engendered when local people work together, create together, an object example of the value of locally-led engagement.
- Fun Palaces are not about us and them. Unlike the usual cultural interaction, they are not about showing a piece of work and asking people to attend, responding only when we tell them they may. They are about interaction, welcoming participants.
- We are not concerned with ‘excellence’ or ‘quality’. We believe that local people are a better judge of their community’s needs and wants than a central body, usually based hundreds of miles away. What’s more, we have noticed that people want to make a better Fun Palace a second time, a third time – they get it, they don’t need ‘excellence’ dictated to them.
Above all, Fun Palaces are about trusting the people to create what is right for where they live, for their own community. They are about handing over creative power, helping people become the new cultural leaders by letting them BE the new cultural leaders. (And yes, we do have template risk assessment forms in our Toolkit, along with much more.)
Like Joan Littlewood, the visionary theatre director who first suggested the idea of a Fun Palace combining arts and sciences, we believe in the ‘genius in every person’ – and we think it’s time to let that genius fly.
Stella Duffy, Co-Director Fun Palaces funpalaces.co.uk