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Fun Palaces 2017: let planning commence

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Events, Outcome: communities, Outcome: culture
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[Editor’s note: this post was written by Stella Duffy, to announce that registration for the 2017 Fun Palaces weekend has opened]

Fun Palaces is both an ongoing campaign for culture at the heart of every community, and an annual weekend of active participation in culture (arts, science, crafts, tech, digital, and sometimes sports) run by and for local people. Obviously, libraries are perfect spaces for local Fun Palaces.

Fun Palaces have grown exponentially in the four years since we started and, in 2016, there were 292 Fun Palaces across the UK and worldwide, with 124,000 people taking part – 59% of them were in libraries, including dozens in New Zealand and Australia.

How are Fun Palaces set up?

Most Fun Palaces are led by a Maker team - this team might include venue or organisation staff, local artists and scientists (sometimes paid, sometimes volunteering alongside other community volunteers), local people with a passion or a skill to share, and any number of interested groups from the local community. All are welcome to share their interests and skills in hands-on, interactive activities aimed at all ages and abilities.

Craft session in South Emsall library. Photo credit: Wakefield libraries
Craft session in South Emsall library. Photo credit: Wakefield libraries

It is this locally-led, community-focused input that makes Fun Palaces so distinctive. Of course there are always great people to bring in from outside, but Fun Palaces believes that every neighbourhood, every area, will have brilliant people keen to engage locally – what makes the difference is how we invite them to take part. We are not just asking people to be audiences or visitors, but to create and curate for themselves, to make their Fun Palace for their own community. We know that this can be daunting for a venue more used to staff taking the lead, but in a Fun Palace, we also encourage staff to share their own passions, hobbies and enthusiasms, to bring a different side of themselves to work, contributing to their Fun Palace as members of a work community and of a local community.

Our assets-based approach to creating in community – and because we believe in everyone an artist and everyone a scientist, we know that people are our greatest asset – shows up in welcome diversity and much-needed inclusion. In 2016, the 292 Fun Palaces were led by Maker teams with an average of 16 people in each team:

  • 27% of Maker teams included people with disabilities
  • 62% included people from an ethnic minority
  • 34% included people under 18
  • 30% included people over 65
  • 14% included BOTH people under 18 AND people over 65

We are only beginning to scratch the surface of the ‘genius in everyone’ that we hope to reveal and work with – both in our public workshops and in those (as for libraries) that we run within organisations. With a small, part-time team of five, it is imperative that we trust locals to know what’s best for their own community. Makers tell us that making a Fun Palace supports them in feeling part of that community:

  • 98% would like to make another Fun Palace in the future
  • 42% agreed that making a Fun Palace opened up new opportunities for them
  • 46% of Makers agreed that they got to know people who are different to them through making a Fun Palace
  • 37% agreed that, as part of making a Fun Palace, they did something they did not know they were capable of

Fun Palaces are not about audience development (although venues and organisations tell us they get more people and new people through the door at a Fun Palace), they are about artist development, scientist development; they are about allowing local genius to flourish. Part of our work is not just to encourage people to join in culture and creativity, but also to acknowledge that every local community has its own culture, so we aim to bring to greater prominence the vital work that so many people are already doing in so many unsung locations.

How do libraries fit into the picture?

Libraries, with much-loved public spaces, a long history of putting the community first, and a tradition of supporting lifelong learning, have a great role to play in this movement. We welcome you to join in, whether you are a first-timer or a regular participant. [Editor’s second note: You can read about the diverse activities which took place in libraries last year in these 2 blog posts: Fun Palaces 2016 and Fun Palaces 2016 chapter 2]

Masses of activity in Leeds. Photo credit: Leeds libraries
Masses of activity in Leeds. Photo credit: Leeds libraries

Take a look at this short film made about Fun Palaces in 2016.

The Fun Palaces philosophy is a perfect fit with the new public libraries culture offer. Public libraries are all about reaching out to communities, engaging and inspiring them through fantastic local cultural and learning activities, and enabling people to explore new opportunities that will enrich and improve their lives. The Fun Palaces Movement with its focus on local talent, local skills sharing and community building, exemplifies one of the important principles of the Culture Offer and we are delighted that libraries are involved.”
Neil MacInnes and Sarah Mears, Society of Chief Librarians

If you are considering taking part, here is the Downloadable Fun Palaces Libraries Toolkit. Registration opens from 28 February.

Please note, this is a guest blog. Views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of DCMS or the Libraries Taskforce.

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