Taking Fun Palaces back to the Architects

Stella Duffy on presenting Fun Palaces at Tate Liverpool on a panel of architects to a room of architecture students :

Last week at Tate Liverpool, I presented a paper in response to the Claude Parent exhibition “Rolling Around Like Gorillas on the Incline : Opening the Imaginary in Architecture and the Arts”. (If you check out that link to Parent’s “Twelve Subversive Acts To Dodge the System” you’ll see why we thought it was very Fun Palaces.)

I’m not an academic and this was the first time I’ve ever submitted an abstract to apply to present (twitter was very helpful offering me various links to how to write an abstract/what to say, twitter is always helpful), and I was only asked to present at the last minute when someone else had dropped out … BUT Tate Liverpool were very welcoming, the other papers presented were hugely interesting, with very clear links in thinking to our Fun Palaces, and it was immensely useful to have a moment to think about what we’d DONE just two weeks before, in order to present it to people who knew nothing about it.

This is what I said, alongside a whole load of gorgeous images from the Fun Palaces on 4/5 October 2014.

Populace at TRSE Fun Palace, workshops in world-changing.

Populace at TRSE Fun Palace, workshops in world-changing.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, theatre director Joan Littlewood and architect Cedric Price dreamed up the Fun Palace. The wild lovechild of Pleasure Gardens, People’s Palaces and Working Men’s Institutes, it was to include high art and populist entertainment, hard science and useful technologies, a place to have a beer, to learn about bringing up your kids, to accidentally discover you might enjoy opera or particle physics after all.

Crucially it was to be for and by the local people.
What did local people want to enjoy?
What did local people want to learn?
What did local people not yet have access to – locally?

They wrote of it :
“Choose what you want to do – or watch someone else doing it. Learn how to handle tools, paint, babies, machinery, or just listen to your favourite tune. Dance, talk or be lifted up to where you can see how other people make things work. Sit out over space with a drink and tune in to what’s happening elsewhere in the city. Try starting a riot or beginning a painting – or just lie back and stare at the sky.”
It was never built.

In 2013, a few of us asked “Shall we make a Fun Palace or two to celebrate Joan Littlewood’s centenary on the 6th October?”
138 locations said yes.
130 across the UK.
The others were in Iceland, Sweden, Australia, Germany, France and Canada.

Each of the Fun Palaces agreed to be :
Free, Local, Innovative, Transformative, Engaging

and then they did what they wanted
making for and with local people
creating Fun Palaces by community for community

in some places there were half a dozen Fun Palace Makers
in some there were two
in one there was 138
we think there were probably about 750 Makers in total
many of them new to making, new to community work, new to organising
many of them volunteers
all of them passionate about bringing together arts, sciences, technologies, learning
exploring what these ideas have to offer individually and in their crossover
and having fun while doing so

there were Fun Palaces in galleries, arts centres, theatres, schools, libraries, village halls, town squares, a woodland and a swimming pool

60,000 people came
sixty thousand people

they didn’t come for the space
they didn’t come for the building
they didn’t come for what was on the walls
they didn’t come for the walls at all

they came for the art
and the science
and the music
and the experiments
and the physics lecture about the properties of water in the swimming pool
and the brain built in the basement
and the yoga in the woodland
and the ceilidh
and the life drawing classes
they came to play

they weren’t there to be in the space
and they definitely weren’t there to be passive audiences
they were there to do it themselves

it wasn’t a one-off

it is an annual campaign that says :
we will make better work if we make it with, rather than just for, audiences
we will make better work if we make that work with community
we will make better communities if we make together

it is a movement that says :
we don’t know how amazing we can be
yet

Everyone an Artist
Everyone a Scientist

5-word protests at SouthBank Fun Palace

5-word protests at SouthBank Fun Palace