Stella Duffy explains how Fun Palaces bring communities together and how you can get involved.
Last year’s Southbank Fun Palace. Picture by Helen Murray.
I grew up in a very political home; left-wing, union politics, which didn’t have much truck with feminism or anti-homophobia, sadly, but learned eventually. When I – the first in my family – went to university, I became even more political. According to 18-year-old me, the politics of my family was too slow, the world wasn’t changing fast enough, there was so much more to do and I knew it, even if no-one else did. As many are in their late teens and early 20s, I was as forceful in my opinions on how and why to change the world as I was fearful, insecure and uncertain underneath those opinions.
I’m still political, still sure inequality is wrong and sure we can all do more about it. The main difference, though, is that I truly thought back then that mine was the ONLY way to make change, that my friends and I were the only ones to see the truth, and that everyone else was either selfish or willfully ignorant.
Well, with age comes awareness. (I can’t wait until I’m 85, and how much I’ll look back laugh at me now.) One of the things I love about being middle-aged is how often I can see the other point of view. I don’t always agree with it, but whatever it is, I’d rather talk. I’d rather try to hear the other person. I’d rather dialogue.
Fun Palaces is all about dialogue. It’s about a load of other things too; about change beginning locally, about making a difference where we live, about working with and for community, within community. It’s about making sciences not scary for arts people and arts not scary for sciences people and both available to all, and about both being ‘culture’. At base, though, Fun Palaces are about dialogue; neighbour talking to neighbour and deciding to create an event together. It’s about different types of people – professional and amateur, volunteer and paid, arts and sciences, local and national – working together to create community events which unite people who might not otherwise have met. About people making something happen, where they live, for other people who live near them.
Community in action at last year’s Southbank Fun Palace. Picture by Helen Murray.
Fun Palaces are people doing things for people they’ve never met before, in the hope that, another time, those people will make an effort for their community in their turn.
It’s small, it’s local, it lacks polish and shine (and those are great things to lack), it’s definitely not about ‘excellence’ or ‘artistic quality’, it’s about people. That’s it – people. Joan Littlewood, the theatre director who, with architect Cedric Price, had the 1960s idea for the never-built original Fun Palace said: “I really do believe in the genius in every person”. So do we. And the genius of every community.
Croydon Fun Palace. Picture by Helen Murray.
To make a Fun Palace for and with your community on October 3 and/or 4 this year (half days are fine, it doesn’t have to be the whole weekend – unless you want to) all you have to do is agree to create some kind of event that is:
Free – so it’s accessible to all.
Local – because that’s the guts of it.
Innovative – do something you don’t normally do.
Transformative – take over your local library, park, village green, town square, high street, arts centre, theatre, museum, school and transform it for as long as your Fun Palace lasts.
Engaging – can anyone come? Are there things for everyone to do so there aren’t some people who are audience and some who are starring? That’s engaging.
Other than that, and with a passion for bringing arts and sciences together (because we believe in Everyone an Artist, Everyone a Scientist), whatever you do is up to you. You create the local event that is open and welcoming to all, as organisers and as participants, we help you share it locally, nationally, internationally. You make something that begins change in your community from the grassroots up, we make the fuss about you.
Last year, 3,183 local people, many of them volunteers, many of whom had never before organised a public event, made Fun Palaces. Some said it changed their lives, many said they now know their neighbours better and feel way closer to their community. Many said, “I had never before thought of myself as artistic or scientific, but now, maybe I am.”
And I realised, finally, fully, that my 18-year-old self, well-meaning though she was, was wrong. The world is full of people who want to make a difference, most people want to make a difference. We just need to help each other to do it. We need to make our differences for the better – together. And we need to start right where we live.
I’m a writer, theatre-maker, the founder and Co-Director of Fun Palaces, a national campaign for arts and sciences for all, created by, for and with local communities. @stellduffy