Stella Duffy, Co-Director of Fun Palaces, awarded an OBE

I’m delighted (and very surprised) to have been awarded an OBE for Services to the Arts in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List this weekend.

I got my Equity card in 1981, my first novel was published in 1994, and I have worked as an artist (actor, deviser, improviser, director, writer, theatremaker) for over 35 years – putting up with the vagaries of pay/no pay, the usual freelance problems of no holiday pay, no sick pay, no compassionate leave etc – always with the hope that the work we make, as artists, as people engaged with society, can be of value – not just on an artistic level, but as active, involved citizens. Arts for our sake rather than arts for art’s sake. Not just culture FOR everyone, but culture BY, FOR, and WITH everyone.

Fun Palaces has helped me begin to realise this dream. Our work that includes everyone (everyone an artist), that believes sciences are absolutely part of culture (everyone a scientist), trusting that the people who best know the needs of a community are the people of that community – and that they are also the best people to create that community’s culture (everyone an expert).

This honour is for ‘services to the arts’ and this work, the work of supporting arts and culture that are fully engaged, truly community-led, is what I perceive my own ‘service’ to be.

Fun Palaces is a tiny, part-time team working far more than the two days a week we can pay ourselves. Our achievements do not exist without Sarah-Jane Rawlings, Hannah Lambert, Kirsty Lothian – and more recently (again) Dan King. We are hugely supported by The Albany, by a number of brilliant people who have worked with us to date, and by our funders who trust us even as we admit this is all an experiment in handing over culture, in breaking down the established boundaries. And it is nothing without the Fun Palaces Makers. The local people making an effort for their own communities that they, as artists, as scientists, as both or as neither, are a part of. The community we are all part of – the community of Fun Palaces, the people who believe in Joan’s ‘genius in every person’.

Nor does Fun Palaces exist without Joan Littlewood and Cedric Price’s original vision. That building would have been quite different to the wild, messy, anywhere, anyplace, everyplace Fun Palaces we now create together, but we trust it shares the same vision – a profound belief in everyday people and in the place of culture at the heart of every community.

And yes, I do know that Joan might not have approved of an OBE. (Some of you might not approve either.) The communist Joan probably would not have approved at all. But the realist Joan accepted a home for Theatre Workshop at Ormesby Hall, the older Joan was companion to Baron Philippe de Rothschild, and the pragmatist Joan said ‘take the money from the very devil’. I am grateful for anything that helps share our work more widely, and gains the support we desperately need to make the vital differences we are ALL making together.

With love, thanks, and so much more for us all to do,
Stella x

ps – re that ‘support’, here’s our donate page!