Today we’re pleased to announce that we are the recipients of an Arts Council Exceptional Award, to bring to life the national Fun Palaces project, taking place across 80+ venues on Saturday 4 & Sunday 5 October 2014 and beyond. Gavin Barlow, CEO of the Albany, explains how our relationship with Fun Palaces came about.
In 2013, Stella Duffy started something rather magical. At Improbable’s annual Devoted and Disgruntled event, she posed a simple question: Who wants to do something for Joan Littlewood’s centenary in 2014, that isn’t another revival?
Joan was one of the Twentieth Century’s most significant theatre directors and cultural pioneers, and that question led to a discussion about bringing to life the vision Joan created with Cedric Price for the Fun Palace: one space linking arts and sciences, entertainment and education. Perhaps, the group thought, a Fun Palace could exist anywhere. They began to conceive a vision of Pop-Up Fun Palaces across the country, appearing for a glorious, weekend-long celebration of culture.
Stella teamed up with Co-Director Sarah-Jane Rawlings, the brilliant creative producer who helped to launch Meet Me at the Albany, the Albany’s artist led day club for the over 60s.
In many ways, Meet Me at the Albany has become the coalescence point for how we think about our work as an organisation. What we’re interested in is finding ways for communities – and often those who find it harder to access culture – to meet with artists and practitioners in a genuinely democratic, accessible space, for exchanges that are equally enriching for all parties. Meet Me at the Albany is, for us, the perfect example of that.
Five key principles underpin the Fun Palace:
• Fun Palaces are FREE
• Fun Palaces are LOCAL, with community involvement, engagement and participation at heart
• Fun Palaces are INNOVATIVE, finding new ways to bring the arts, culture and sciences together
• Fun Palaces are TRANSFORMATIVE, intending to transform the place/spaces they take place in: they transform the makers, and they transform the participants
• Fun Palaces are ENGAGING: Fun Palaces are about full participation. Sitting and listening is fine, as long as they also include opportunities to have a go
It was clear in discussions with Sarah-Jane that there were countless ways in which the thinking underpinning our work at the Albany married with (and is of course, directly or indirectly, inspired by) Joan and Cedric’s vision.
We host many free or extremely low cost events – it is possible to buy a ticket for £1 for any show in our season. We’re driven by our community: those £1 tickets are available on a first-come, first-served basis to punters on Deptford Market, the beating heart of our local high street that adjoins our building and spills over into our café. And we present a diverse array of arts and cultural forms (you are often as likely to encounter a cooking demonstration, a gardening club, a creative writing workshop or a yoga session at the Albany as you are a theatre show).
But it is the idea of arts and culture as a level playing field, a space for free exchange between all participants, that resonates with us most. So it made perfect sense to us to work with Stella and Sarah-Jane – as well as a streamline but quite exceptional team – to bring Fun Palaces to life.
Now, a year and a bit on, over 80 partners have signed up to create their own version of a Fun Palace on Saturday 4 & Sunday 5 October 2014. Ultimately, everyone involved shares a belief that arts and culture transform lives. Joan believed that, too.
So in many ways, Fun Palaces is more than just a celebration of an extraordinary individual. It’s a national campaign that shouts, sings, shimmies, stomps from the rooftops: arts and culture are a crucial part of human life, and they are truly, truly glorious. Let’s make sure they belong to everyone.