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In my dream of utopia: creative spaces for utopian thinking

Posted on 3 August 2016

Written by:

Louise Dredge

“.. there are many things in the commonwealth of Utopia
that I rather wish…
to see followed in our governments.”
  – Thomas More, Utopia, 1516

Over the weekend of 24th to 26th June, we took part in the Utopia Fair in the beautiful, neoclassical surroundings of Somerset House, a major arts and cultural venue  in central London.

We were at the Fair to showcase Prototyping Utopias, a project led by The Glass-House and the Open University, where people in Bow were invited to dream about and prototype visions and ideas for their future of the places where they live, work and play. Our project joined over thirty others at the Fair, bringing together projects involving local community groups, researchers, activists and artists across the UK to explore how utopian ideals can be used to benefit the environmental and social future of our communities.

We set up our stall to inspire visitors through the dreams and visions of the 140+ people in Bow who participated in our project, and to create spaces for conversations, for making and for dreaming about a better future for our places.

As the result of the EU referendum was announced on the first day of the Fair, many visitors to our stall spoke of their shock at the news and their fears for a more divided place. On our ‘Big Wide World of Utopias’ map, visitors were invited to add a couple of words to express their dreams for a utopian place. Sentiments such as ‘No Frontiers’, ‘Togetherness’ and ‘Equality’ were commonly shared.

With our ‘Utopia Chest’, we created a pop-up space for making and conversation. A trunk containing a myriad of arts and crafts materials, people of all ages gathered around to create models and prototypes of their utopian dreams and to talk with others. It was a particular draw for children, who relished the chance to make and exhibit their work on our wall of utopian dreams.

Others were moved by the utopian voices we shared, from a participatory sound installation that we created at our ‘Dreaming Utopias’ open day in Bow, while the film by Emma Crouch, capturing the project and those voices, was screened in an exhibition space in Somerset House.

In that film, we hear artist Paul Burgess talk about the value of dreaming: “imagining something is a useful way of achieving something practical”. Often, in public life, we are discouraged from focusing on ideals and dreaming, but the Prototyping Utopias project, and our weekend at the Utopia Fair, reinforced for us the value of dreaming: to inspire new ideas and help us all to explore how we want to live. Together.

The event was led by the Prototyping Utopias project team: Louise Dredge and Sophia de Sousa from The Glass-House Community Led Design and Katerina Alexiou and Theo Zamenopoulos from the Open University. The activities were delivered with the help of artists Simon Daw and Paul Burgess. Many thanks to Vera Hale and Ruchit Purohit for lending a helping hand at the stall and to all the visitors of the Utopia Fair who shared their visions.