Fun Palaces: Bringing Together Communities and their Imaginations

fun palaces

A collaboration between technology, art, architecture and community

In the 1960s, Fun Palace’s were meant to bring communities together through art and technology. Fifty years later and Watershed, Bristol, are using this idea to inspire adults and children alike. Molly Bishop explains why inspiring people to have “fun” is essential.

Fun Palaces were the 1960s dream child of architect Cedric Price and theatre-producer Joan Littlewood. The pair envisaged a new collaboration between technology, art, architecture and community. They felt that when new technologies are put into the hands and minds of the public, truly responsive spaces can arise. These spaces – called “Fun Palaces” – allowed people to do, see and create whatever they wished. In essence…to have fun.

Whilst their plans were never realised in 1960s London, their vision has persisted and this summer the concept of Fun Palaces will be championed by communities across the country.

Art and tech hubs are stepping forward to co-create local Fun Palaces which will emerge in early October. What will they look like? No one knows. Yet, at its core a Fun Palace is a journey and a meeting place for communities and their imaginations. Whilst it may be based in an old library or church hall, it is really about how space is changed and enabled. It is an experiment of neighbourhood, creativity and technology which pushes boundaries and sets ideas free.

Beyond Cedric Price and Joan Littlewood

Fifty years on from the inception of Price and Littlewood’s idea the possibilities for having fun with technology, and using it to imagine the future, have soared both in terms of know-how and public accessibility. Their original plans included modular kits for creating unique and changeable spaces, enabling people to learn how to handle tools, paint and machinery. Today the average teenager could list innovations such as 3D printers, bionic vision, high definition, wearable tech, lab grown burgers, voice recognition and public drones.

We can now collect and analyse big data on our own cheap phones and, as a result, technology has empowered and inspired us. Anyone who works in youth enterprise education, such as myself, hears hundreds of ideas for new apps and new algorithms from a keen young generation.

Most importantly however, we are pretty good at being creative with technology. Last fortnight the Tate took up this cause explicitly; running an art hackathon where techies were challenged to create something visual and creative with the vast swathes of data available at their fingertips. Some important educational institutions are also leading the way- UCL runs a Makespace centre for innovation in crafts while Stanford has its own D-school Institute of Design which boasts some of the very latest making-technology. Arts platforms are becoming increasingly pervasive and approaching their craft with a mind to immersive technologies and their power.

Fun Palaces at Watershed

The Fun Palaces project will be a fascinating survey of the true depth and breadth of public technological and creative imaginations. Places that are promising Fun Palaces are spending the summer conjuring up ways to involve their community – especially those people who would normally overlook or run screaming from this kind of thing. It’s a tough task. In Bristol, a Fun Palace in the hands of the enthusiastic and ready risk-taking Watershed (cultural cinema and pervasive media studio) looks exciting. The team have taken on the challenge with an impressive and diverse approach to social involvement.

Drawing upon two existing programmes, which resonate with the ethos of Price’s vision, the Watershed are channeling people’s minds towards co-creating the October event.

One is the Future Producers: a programme in its third season which gathers a cohort of young students to learn about production and to grow their talent on a working event. The selection process draws students from all walks of life and a range of ages and works with them intensively across two weekends and at various points throughout the summer. Last year’s group staged an immersive cinema event of the Shining which was both exhilarating and bizarre at every turn- it was a feat of production that managed to bring the concept of immersion very vividly to audience. This year a new cohort will be faced with producing a Fun Palace, drawing from their own experiences and visions as well as dreaming up ways of accessing the visions of other Bristol-folk.

Into this promising mix, the Watershed is collaborating with the British Film Institute’s Sci-Fi season. Their Fun Palace will have a definite futuristic twist. The Fun Palace brief, as vague as it is, asks that communities provide a collaboration of art and science for adults and children alike. The mix of cinema and youth production could be genius, but they will have to do their homework. Entitled ‘Tomorrow’s World’, the BFI collaboration promises to add a lot to the understanding of what fun is and what fun could be for the people of Bristol and Bristol future.  Open discussions with the public are planned as well as closed door words with arts organisations, creative businesses and academics.

Engaging the apathetic is the grand challenge for this event, they must reach out in new ways in order to have a real sense of the Bristol community, pulling in the unheard and the underserved.

One business already on board is Mufti, a local theatrical installations group. Delightfully, Mufti is known to repeatedly put its money where its mouth is and address the divide between the arts and sciences adventurously. They like to enable people to explore the subject in pervasive settings and decide for themselves where boundaries lie. The listed building in which the Fun Palace sits is likely to be challenged.

A Social Vision for Bristol

Cedric Price’s vision was most importantly social.

What are Bristol’s social needs and niches? What should be explored and enabled? What does science mean to this community? What does fun mean?

Scanning over the loose plans of towns and cities nationwide, the breadth of what to address and how to address it is truly astonishing. In Crystal Palace a historian, scientist, teacher and comic are leading a local walk to provoke new insights into local life, Liverpool is planning a street museum of Chinatown over time, Norwood and Tulse Hill are focusing on plants, whilst Whiligig is going a step further to create magical installations across 4 acres of beautiful local woodland. Hoxton is turning to narrative with a Ministry of Stories, and Hull is going all-out with giant cardboard robots travelling across the city watched over by ‘giant creatures’.

Whilst these all sound singularly wacky, they have emerged from a process of co-curation and social involvement. They all mean something fun to the people that live there. The measure of achievement with Fun Palaces, if there can be one, will be finding a discourse in between and above fantasy and tradition which is innovative but relevant today. Something that reaches across disciplines and generations which is no mean task but should, at least, be fun.


Written By:

Molly Bishop

Molly Bishop is the Enterprise Consultant at University of Bristol, where she acts as the liaison between the University’s Enterprise Managers and the student body. She volunteers in local arts spaces and charities and is committed to social engagement with creativity and entrepreneurship.

Author: admin

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