The accidental idea that’s since engaged 800,000 people!
When LGBTQ+ writer, activist, theatre maker (and now existential psychotherapist) Stella Duffy suggested that a few people might want to recreate Joan Littlewood’s radical Fun Palace (designed by architect, Cedric Price) for Joan’s centenary in 2014, she had no idea 138 venues would sign up to turn themselves into temporary Fun Palaces that October. Or that by the 10th Annual weekend of action (this October), there would have been more than 2500 Fun Palaces, made by over 40,000 people, having engaged more than 800,000 people since that first invitation… all making a huge shout for Cultural Democracy!
What is Cultural Democracy?
Cultural democracy is a worldview that actively engages everyone in deciding what counts as culture, where it happens, who makes it, and who experiences it. We believe that everyone’s taste, interests and talents are equally valuable, and that everyone (who wants to) should have a cultural voice and be able to contribute to the cultural landscape of the UK. If we get our way, the arts and culture landscape would be truly representative of the UK, not just of those who are able to get past the gatekeepers, get a foot in the door and/or those who conform to archaic ideas of ‘excellence’ which have been decided by a handful of people with cultural power. The arts would look very different! Making a Fun Palace in your community is a chance to taste that new world, a moment to come together and share skills, expertises, interests and … fun with and between communities.
What happens at a Fun Palace?
Joan and Cedric’s Fun Palace was a building with walls, ceilings and doors that could be repositioned at a whim. Yours can be whatever you want. In a Fun Palace - “Everyone an Artist, Everyone a Scientist” - make space for the things YOU are interested in! Fun Palaces are a chance for communities to put cultural democracy in to action - to come together and create the culture that matters to them. The wider Fun Palaces campaign shares and shouts about this brilliant culture that exists within all communities (not just the big, shiny, heavily funded buildings in cities, that tend to get all of the attention, but the tiny, the scruffy, the weird and wonderful, and the “is it good enough” - hint: YES.) Fun Palaces nowadays are pop-up, so take place in existing buildings, outdoor spaces and community venues.
“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.” - Joan Littlewood
LGBTQ+ Fun Palaces
Queer People have always played a huge role in the Fun Palaces campaign; in 2022 20% of Fun Palace Lead Makers identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual and 15% of makers identified as non-binary or gender fluid. In 2018 I made the first official LGBTQ+ Fun Palace at the Pleasance Theatre in London (although Fun Palaces had always had a plethora of queer makers). I wanted to make a Fun Palace in order to create a space for queer people, myself included, and allies. A space where for one day, on Fun Palaces weekend, we could celebrate the culture that we loved, and do it the same time as all of the other Fun Palaces across the UK and beyond to shout and share our culture too. And we did. From burlesque to LGBTQ+ storytime, Dungeons and Dragons, poetry writing, script writing and biscuit decorating; there was plenty to take part in. Last year the Queer Museum (London) followed suit by hosting their first Fun Palace.
Beyond the fun of the day itself, it allowed me to strengthen and develop relationships with the people I made the Fun Palace with. I feel it’s really important at the moment with all that’s going on with regards to homophobia, biphobia and transphobia, that queer people self organise joyful, creative and fun spaces for ourselves. I believe so passionately in the ripples we can create when we stand up and make a space that wasn’t there before. Fun Palaces are one way of doing this. I loved making Fun Palaces so much so, that I jumped at having the chance to work with the organisation, in 2021 I joined as their producer and haven’t looked back since.
If you want to make a Fun Palace this October, it’s not too late to join in (keep it tiny if you need to!) - head over to www.funpalaces.co.uk to find out how to get started.
Amie is a writer, storyteller and the producer for Fun Palaces. You can find out more about Fun Palaces here: www.funpalaces.co.uk