In December 2020, we announced some changes for Fun Palaces, with co-founders and co-directors Stella Duffy and Sarah-Jane Rawlings stepping away from their roles. In May 2021 Makala Cheung and Kirsty Lothian became the new Fun Palaces co-directors, and over the next few months several more team members and Ambassadors will be starting too. A couple of months in, Makala and Kirsty introduce themselves, what drew them towards Fun Palaces, and why community at the heart of culture and culture at the heart of every community matters to them.
I first heard about Fun Palaces six years ago; an artist I knew on the circuit had become a Fun Palaces Ambassador and I couldn’t help but feel slightly jealous of her exuberant new job title.
Fast forward to this year and a Fun Palaces job ad with encouraging words landed in my inbox. After a major internal battle about my love for my current part time community job and the time I also had to make music, I decided to answer the call of the universe and see what happened.
When I asked my ex-boss for a reference and said what job it was (and her knowing Stella) she exclaimed ‘Wow those are big boots to fill!’ I immediately began to question myself, but I believed in the vision of a fairer (and fun!) world, where everyone’s creativity and culture is valued, every person is seen for their fabulously talented self, and the belief that together we can change the world. So I applied.
The change Fun Palaces stands for is cultural democracy. It actually took me years to truly understand what culture really meant. Mainly because so often we hear the term ‘ arts and culture’ and think of something high on a pedestal that we should be so lucky to experience and yet to me it was like, well, we all have / create it? So I felt confused… I finally realised why I was confused; the world was set up so terribly wrong.
Don’t get me wrong, I (especially as a music artist always seeking new inspiration and a mum looking for free things to do with my daughter) would love to go to the local museums and galleries, from family arts days at Spike Island to a yearly treat visit to the Hippodrome and of course attending and performing at the Chinese New Year event at Bristol Museum. I also loved going to all of the local community festivals and local underground music shows (as well as inviting everyone to my pancake parties and easter hunts). But why is there such a difference about where money is invested? That’s never sat right with me. It’s only now I’m part of Fun Palaces I feel like, together, with others, we can do something about it!
When I posted about my new Fun Palaces role the amount of people that said ‘That’s so YOU!’ and ‘You were born for this!’ was the first hint I’d made a good decision. By my fourth day (and even though it was online!) I’d roared with laughter and cried with joy numerous times. It felt like coming home and we all had the same love running through our blood. Every conversation has been inspiring and I’ve never felt so lucky. Plus I absolutely adore Kirsty. It was very important to me that we get on well. I respect her so much for her talent, knowledge and passion and I know we will be the perfect yin and yang together.
Moving forward I’m excited and slightly terrified, but if this last year has taught me anything, it’s that we’re all stronger together, and that Fun Palaces are needed now more than ever. (But, as always, my plan will be to do myself out of a job, and one day we won’t be needed… then we won’t be campaigning, we’ll just get together ’cause it’s fun!)
I’ve been involved in Fun Palaces since the very start. While I was not at the D&D session which Stella called in January 2013, and which started Fun Palaces, I was at the event. I was in charge of making it run smoothly, and heavily pregnant with my first child. The very first piece of work I did after that child was born was to help Stella and Sarah-Jane run an Open Space event to find out what Fun Palaces could be.
And of course, because Fun Palaces are personal, and political, I’ve been finding out what I can be too; learning from Stella, from Sarah-Jane, from our colleagues, from the legions of Makers and from the Ambassadors past and present. What can we all be? How do we value what we are already? How do we celebrate everyone’s cultural life – equally? How do we get out of the way of people, so everyone can do what they want to do, feeling supported and bold? How do we know we are doing it? And can we have fun at the same time, please?
Joan Littlewood wrote “I built my life on the rock of change”, and our Fun Palaces are built there too. We will never stop finding out what Fun Palaces can be because they are as varied and glorious as the people who make them, and the same goes for Fun Palaces as a movement. Each person who has joined our journey has changed it, and been changed (yes, all 41,000+ Makers, Ambassadors and more). Now the whole world is on the rock of change (and of course, it was there all along), and it feels a momentous time to be welcoming Makala, and saying goodbye to Sarah-Jane and Stella. Fun Palaces has always felt like a band of close-knit friends and Makala already feels like one – her first couple of months have involved a lot of laughter, many meaty conversations and much dreaming. She’s already bringing so much brilliance and delight to Fun Palaces. She’s really exciting to work with, and I think we are a good combination. It feels like Fun Palaces’ future, and the work we want to do to make the world fairer and more fun, is so full of possibilities.
This last year or so has been so hard for everyone, and much harder on some than others. We have a lot of work to do, to look after each other, to listen, celebrate, mourn and reimagine. We’d better get started!