There’s magic in the making at Muriwai Fun Palace

19 June 2017

Danielle Hart is a freelance copywriter and advertising creative. She lives on the west coast of New Zealand at Muriwai Beach, and spends a lot of her time walking around the house with her laptop, pretending to work, but really just staring at the sea. She has a husband, two kids, and numerous pets - and she enjoys cooking, painting, yoga, reading and beach time with the dogs. Danielle loved learning how to make pasta at Muriwai's Fun Palace in 2016.

If you're even half way entertaining the idea of making a Fun Palace, I say do it!

My own experience last year, co-creating the Muriwai Fun Palace, left me feeling inspired, happy, hugely rewarded and more than a little humbled. I gained a new appreciation for my community and the people in it, and saw first hand how the arts and sciences, along with the process of learning, exploring and trying out new things, can bring us closer together (regardless of age, sex, race or background) in a very real and authentic way.

Our Fun Palace turned out to be bigger than we expected.

It had over 30 makers and activities on the go, and we drew in over 1000 participants (note: this is in a small coastal settlement with no more than 1200 residents, on the outskirts of Auckland, New Zealand). But despite its size, the event was a delight to organise. I think that’s a little bit to do with the fact that we live in such a great spot, with incredible, creative, generous individuals as neighbours (but maybe that’s the story the world over). I think it's also a LOT to do with the fact that the Fun Palaces concept is just so good to begin with. People instantly warm to it, and naturally want to be involved.

"eight months later, our community still basks in the glow of the Fun Palace"

So here’s how it happened.

My friend Helen and I are out for a walk. She mentions Stella in London and the Fun Palaces movement - I am immediately sold, and say ‘YES! Let’s do one here’. We come up with a few likely suspects, i.e. local friends and family members who we know have skills and who won’t mind sharing them. We approach these people. They say yes, then they recommended others, who in turn recommended others… and it grew from there.

Before we knew it we had 30+ makers, with activities ranging from 3D printing, water rockets and backwards-steering bicycles, to airbrushing, Knight school, ukulele, drumming, knitting, pasta making, pompoms, weaving, henna, essential oil blending, dancing, scratch film, sourdough starters, enviro-art, composting... you name it.

Other than a few practical boxes to tick (√ securing the venue, √ sorting a budget, √ applying for funding, √ organising resources, √ getting word out there / promoting it and √ keeping stakeholders informed) our role as organisers was essentially 99% FUN.

Some great things occurred, before the event even took place.

We LOVED how ready and willing everyone was to support our Fun Palace – to participate, share their expertise, donate their resources and give up their time. We met people (neighbours!) we didn't previously know, and discovered information about them that was fascinating (e.g. I found out I had a world-renowned robotics expert living just up the road – wow!). So even in the lead-up process, connections were made. Doors were opened. Friendships were built. We said to our makers on the eve of our Fun Palace, it didn’t matter if no one turned up on the day, because magic had already happened and it was already a success! But turn up they did…  10am on Saturday morning, and people of all shapes and sizes, ages, all backgrounds and all abilities came flooding through the door.

There was so much fun on the day!

We saw friends, neighbours, family and total strangers take delight in the hands-on nature of the experience, and walk away with newfound skills, hobbies and passions. Many of our makers also spoke of the joy of teaching and collaborating - and how, in the process, they learned so much themselves. The fact that this event was FREE (key to the Fun Palaces movement) meant there was absolutely no pressure, and everyone was able to be relaxed, warm, friendly and completely open to the possibility of real connection, real learning, and real fun.

"Doors were opened. Friendships were built."

Then there was the trickle-down effect.

Even now, eight months later, our community still basks in the glow of the Fun Palace. Individuals and community groups that had previously had nothing to do with one another are now linked. A few local (art/music) classes have started up. We have a ‘little library’ (community book swap) that’s now permanently down by the beach, along with a beautiful enviro-art installation. There was a collaborative, math-based quilt on the day that was sewn up and donated to the local Women’s Refuge Centre. There are new relationships, new friends, new interests and new opportunities for growth (I recently got to do a FP lecture at Uni in front of hundreds of students - go me!).

"Saying yes!’ is the spirit of Fun Palaces -

and we discovered that so too is sharing, caring, including, listening, learning, asking for help, improvising, inspiring, empowering and problem solving. I really would urge you to say yes, and become involved. I’m looking forward to doing it all over again this year.