We'll show politicians that culture is at the heart of the community

The fun palaces campaign helps people to make, for themselves, the culture that interests them

Stella Duffy
Saturday 04 October 2014 22:49
Children on Birmingham Repertory Theatre’s ‘Sensory Street’
Children on Birmingham Repertory Theatre’s ‘Sensory Street’

Today, across the country and internationally, a number of "Fun Palaces" will be popping up in schools, community centres, swimming pools, parks, arts centres, theatres and shopping malls, as part of a weekend arts and sciences working together, created by and for the people. These fun palaces are local and neighbourhood events, clearly and unequivocally proving that culture starts at home, in our own communities, that it is not something "other", something we have to visit, but that culture is how which we understand and share our identity – individually, in family, locally and nationally.

Right now, with the effects of austerity painfully showing up as local councils and government bodies are forced to slash budgets for the arts, those of us who make arts – who are in what this Government calls "creative industries" – are facing a real crisis. When education and the NHS have taken such a battering – and despite arts accounting for less than 0.05 per cent of total government spending according to the Arts Council – it is understandable that the arts can be seen as elitist by those who join us maybe once a year, who have to make a real effort (in time and cost) to meet us on our own ground. Many of us are now working very hard to make artistic work of the highest quality and to share that work more widely, to create work that is, from the beginning, more accessible for all.

The fun palaces campaign is one way to do this. Instead of asking people to come and see our finished product, we're helping people to make it themselves. To make, for themselves, the culture that interests them.

We've provided infrastructure support with publicity and marketing, with digital and access help, with support in every way but financial. (All of the fun palaces are self-funded, and free to attend. Many have received small grants from local councils who appreciate the value of active, engaged, creative citizens – especially those who have not been involved on a public scale before.)

The tide of goodwill and enthusiasm in this, our pilot year, has been phenomenal. Across the UK, there are more than 130 fun palaces this weekend. The majority of them are run by local people for local people, with events around arts and sciences, craft and culture – every possible definition of culture is involved.

The weekend has evolved as a national movement from theatre director Joan Littlewood and architect Cedric Price's original idea. Although their fun palace was never built, their 1960s vision of one building to house all arts and sciences, one welcoming space accessible to all, remains both fresh and necessary. The now annual campaign proves to arts professionals that there is a fully involved and spirited community that wants to make work and join in – and that we may need to find new ways to welcome them. It says to communities that they can do it themselves, that they are the experts in the work they want to see or do, that – as Littlewood would have it – there is "genius in every person".

We are happy to help them develop that genius, and we believe doing so will increase engagement in all culture. Further, the fun palace campaign says very clearly to those politicians who want our votes in seven months time, that the real people – not just the "luvvies" that the politicians would dismiss us as – want and need to create, to learn, to share. Fun palaces say that culture belongs at the heart of community – and that politicians ignore this passion at their peril.

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