In the early 1960’s, theatre director Joan Littlewood and architect Cedric Price conceived the idea of the Fun Palace: a ‘laboratory of fun’, or ‘a university of the streets’, it was to be a temporary and movable home to the arts and sciences, open to all. This wasn’t possible in 1961, but thanks to Co-Directors Stella Duffy and Sarah-Jane Rawlings, is possible now. In 2014, they launched an initiative to realise the original Fun Palace vision, bringing it bang up to date for the digital age. In October 2014, across one weekend, more than a hundred Fun Palaces across the UK and beyond, all linked by the digital Fun Palaces website, brought together arts and sciences like never before. Last year, the initiative had grown even bigger with over 90,000 people taking part.
In early 2013, I met with Sarah-Jane and Stella to discuss the myriad opportunities presented by the Fun Palace initiative for brands, for example, sponsorship, co-creation and live events. Some of this thinking made its way into their outstanding Arts Council application that led to an award of nearly £200K. It’s uncharted territory, but there are encouraging signs that brands and broadcasters are waking up to some of the many possibilities that lie ahead. Fun Palaces are well on track to become an annual national event.
During the first Fun Palace weekend itself, I worked with the London Taxi Benevolent Association to organise a Singing Veterans Fun Palace at the Coach and Horses pub in Soho, where hundreds of punters were treated to an unexpected and rather raucous sing-song around the piano. As well as this, together with artist Peter Fillingham, we organised a Fun Palace in The Black Pig butcher’s shop in Deal in Kent, where local butcher Lizzie Douglas butchered a pig, providing a rather unusual and fascinating subject for a painting class.