Fun Palaces’ co-director Stella Duffy on how the hyper-local nature of Fun Palaces makes a difference on a much wider stage …
I wrote this blog on a train back from Truro to London. Two weeks ago Fun Palaces’ co-director Sarah-Jane and I were in Northern Ireland for three days. Last week our producer Kirsty and I were be in Wales. In three weeks time we’ll all be in Scotland, along with our Fun Palaces Ambassadors from around the UK. In Cornwall I spent seven hours with over seventy people at a conference organised by Cornwall Museums Partnership, speaking and giving a mini-workshop on Fun Palaces, fantastically supported by Frances Tout from Libraries Unlimited in Devon, talking about their experience of making Fun Palaces. We talked about how local museums, universities, organisations and volunteers can use Fun Palaces to co-create and co-curate in their own communities. In Northern Ireland, and with phenomenal support from Big Telly, Sarah-Jane and I met with theatre companies and buildings, community participation workers, people working in conflict research and pretty much everyone in between – 63 people in 35 meetings in three days. Every place as different as its people, every Fun Palace as different as its place – we look forward to seeing this even more this year as we welcome our friends from Bergen in Norway.
We have always known that Fun Palaces are about the people who make them and the places where they live and work. We are passionate about hyper-local Fun Palaces and we’ve seen that when a Fun Palace is filled with the passions and enthusiasms of the local people running it, then not only do new people take part, but they have an opportunity to celebrate where they live and the people who live there, as well as a chance to make stronger and deeper connections.
This is vital right now. We are living in a time when we are constantly told how divided we are, how difficult things are. I don’t want to downplay the difficulties, they are very real. We see them in the closure of public spaces and amenities, in cuts to local government, in the knock-on effect in individual and family lives. We also see the phenomenal people we work with getting on – not getting on regardless, they need and deserve our support – but getting on because they believe in their own communities, because they understand that our greatest resource is our brilliant people.
A key element of Fun Palaces’ work is to shine a light on the already-amazing work that is already happening, to make sure the vital work of a small rural library has as bright a light shone on it as a big regional theatre, to shout about the fantastic Fun Palaces Makers in a small industrial town as loudly as about the events at a highly-funded science centre. We have seen genuine grassroots work that is always ongoing and, given the value it creates for each community, merits easily as much attention as work with a bigger national profile.
In the five years of Fun Palaces we have seen a growing call for genuine cultural democracy, we have noticed funders and organizations shift from talking about ‘art for everyone’ to ‘arts with everyone’ (we hope they’ll add in ‘by everyone’ too), we have seen many who are passionate about culture at the heart of community – and look forward to them also sharing our passion for community at the heart of culture. When our cultural organizations are genuinely connected with their own communities, when they are led by and for those communities, we expect to see our varied and multi-faceted culture changing, growing, developing. We expect to see a culture that is genuinely by, for and with the people of every place.
The Fun Palaces weekend is a chance to shine a light on organisations, groups, work and individuals that are often unseen, an opportunity to help bring national and international attention to hyper-local work. We have seen it make local and regional connections, give national prominence to groups that are often over-looked, and remind the big buildings and organisations that not only do the smaller ones have something to offer, they are a great conduit for vital local connections. We have also seen it engender some very positive rivalry between counties, bringing even more attention to the work people are creating. (Devon and Cornwall, I’m looking at you – #ItsNotAboutTheNumbers #ItIsSometimes)
Use us. Use Fun Palaces to shout about the great things going on in your community. Use us to focus local or regional, national and international attention on your brilliant community-led work. Use us to help you shine a light on what you’re doing that matters. We have seen the weekend encourage more people to support and more people to feel they have a role in their community and that their contribution is valued.
Fun Palaces are hyper-local and national, they are national and international, they are individuals and organisations, big buildings and tiny groups – and they all have one thing at heart, belief in the genius in everyone. Let’s shout louder about that.