How Did Fun Palaces Begin?

In January 2013, at Improbable’s annual Devoted and Disgruntled Open Space event, I called a session: “Who wants to do something for Joan Littlewood’s centenary in October 2014, that isn’t another revival?” Here’s the original report from that session.

Joan’s theatre was brilliant of course, but she was more than ‘just’ a director. In the D&D session we talked about Fun Palaces, about the politics and community spirit behind them – an idea descended from the Pleasure Gardens, and the radical idea of People’s Palaces, public engagement at its most open and inclusive. We talked about the possibility of making a Fun Palace anywhere. Of it being an idea, not just a building.

I tweeted that maybe, and there were dozens of immediate responses, a wave of goodwill. And I thought we might make three or four Fun Palaces for Joan’s centenary, after all, everyone’s busy, and loads of good ideas don’t come to fruition … but I began sending the emails anyway (usually in the middle of the night, after a full day’s work), and I asked Sarah-Jane Rawlings to join me, and we began making it happen together because we both truly do want a real democratisation of arts, a fully engaged way of making, a union between arts and sciences, properly by, for and with the community.

It began with calling a session at an Open Space and being perfectly prepared for no-one to come to that session. It grew by asking the right people to come and help. It continued by doing the work required, long before there was funding or time to do it. And it grew, and grew some more, and now it’s this – and we’ve barely begun.

One of the main things we’ve always acknowledged is that community and interest and engagement is there anyway, already. What the Fun Palaces Campaign is doing is simply providing a channel for people to come together, to make together. We say that creativity belongs to all of us, in our public parks and school playgrounds and estate carparks, as much as in our grand institutions and buildings. It is a way to be community, simultaneously, locally AND nationwide and internationally.

And it started with standing up in the middle of a circle and calling it in.

Stella Duffy, July 2014

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