All photos by Helen Murray
The original, never-built Fun Palace was a vision for one venue, free and welcoming to all, to house all arts and all sciences. Dreamed up in the 1960s by theatre director Joan Littlewood and architect Cedric Price, the Fun Palace was to bring much-needed arts, sciences, learning and opportunities for participation to local people in Joan’s beloved East End. The building as planned back then was never made, but it didn’t stop being a good idea. Here, writer and theatre-maker Stella Duffy, founder of the Fun Palaces campaign, explains how you can get involved.
Last year, on 4 and 5 October, 130 venues and locations across the UK (and eight internationally) created Fun Palaces — a day or a weekend of events, bringing together arts and sciences, local people and community, learning and fun. Almost a third of those Fun Palaces were in London. They were everywhere — big, shiny places like the Southbank Centre and the Roundhouse, smaller local arts venues like OvalHouse and BAC, and totally unexpected places, like the Whitgift Shopping Centre in Croydon and Brockwell Lido. They were in parks, streets, gardens, car parks, schools, libraries — anywhere people could gather to create their own version of the Fun Palace, they did so, creating hyper-local events.
Crystal Palace Fun Palace offered tours of the transmitter; My Raynes Park Fun Palace turned a church hall into a party venue; Norwood Fun Palace brought together gardens and gardeners who had never before met (despite living and working on the same street); Greenwich Dance offered tea and cake and local memories as well as dancing. At the Roundhouse participants were welcomed to build a working brain, Told By An Idiot and Deafinitely Theatre ran a silent disco; Deptford had a scientific food fight and a forensic mystery played out on the street; JW3 built a Fun Palace succah; Chisenhale Fun Palace sought ideas from local people for their programme by dancing their suggestions; Brockwell Lido had swimming with mermaids and kayaking to supplement their dance-science and shadow puppets playground. It was all free, for all to enjoy. The incredibly hard-working local groups, mostly volunteers, were supported by our national network to make by and for their own communities, and the turnout of approximately 60,000 attendees internationally was more than we could ever have expected.
This year, we’re doing the same on 3-4 October. We want to build on our success of last year, while making sure we stay true to our original goals of creating Fun Palaces that are free, local, innovative, transformative and engaging. Joan Littlewood was famously political, Fun Palaces politics are equally heartfelt. We believe that real change starts locally and with community. We believe that each community knows what's right for its own people, and one of the best things about our many London communities is how clearly and forcefully each area of London speaks up for itself. We want loads more London communities to shine in our 2015 Fun Palaces.
At Fun Palaces, we're passionate about the integration between arts and science, and about making it possible for everyone — not just the privileged, not just the lucky — to engage with all forms of culture and all forms of sciences on our own doorsteps. If you happen to have a handy expert (or you are one) in particle physics or chamber music that's great. But we also think the community can do just fine, with or without experts. Real participation begins at home.
How you can help
Our job is to hold it all together on a national and international basis, to share your information as widely as possible through our websites, social media and publicity campaign, to support you in creating the best local Fun Palace you possibly can. Your job is to get to know your neighbours better, to make a difference where you live, AND to have fun while you do it. Radical fun — the kind that makes a difference. We welcome many more of you this year, and we welcome back those who worked with us last year.
We especially welcome north Londoners this year. Of the 49 London Fun Palaces in 2014, 19 were in south London, the next largest group in east London, the next were west London. Surely you north Londoners can’t have all been camping out on Hampstead Heath, watching our fun from your lofty viewpoint? Maybe in 2015 we should have transmitter tour races and see who gets to the top first — Crystal Palace or Ally Pally?
New registrations open on 19 February — there's more information and registration on the Fun Palaces website.