<<Our Guide to Utopian Festival Visioning>>

co-writers and city play makers: Rachel Caroline Derrah and Sophia Anne Horwitz

Secret Garden Party - Visioning Utopia - Rachel & Sophia

The Short Story…

Not so recently anymore (over a year ago) Rachel Caroline Derrah and I collaborated with the Scatter Collective (British theatre improv group) along with a number of other interactive performers at the SGP festival  of 2010- a yearly arts music fest inspired by Burning Man (committed to self-expression/ community/ art/ self-reliance).

The Back Story …

A group of inspired community designers played together in Halifax, Canada aiming to launch a Planning & Design Centre – a street front operation to continuously build knowledge, gather ideas, and paint a picture of what is possible.

The PDC team co-created a design tool called cardboard city – an interactive, art-inspired activity to help people spatially understand their neighbourhood // dream what is possible // ideate // prototype ideas.


The first cardboard city was hosted by the PDC team during Nocturne, an art-at-night festival in 2008. Over the course of an evening (6 hrs) more than 700 people entered the exhibition room, walked atop the 40ft x 30ft map of Halifax’s downtown and, with heaps of recycled cardboard, built the city as it is // was // could be. (see some pics: http://picasaweb.google.ca/katie514/CardboardCityPDC# )

Photo by Eli Gordon

Majestical is a word to capture that evening. People of diverse ages and backgrounds – friends // families // strangers // students – talking // sharing // drawing // cutting // gluing // laughing.

Photo by Eli Gordon

Tangible outcomes included a written list of IDEAS FOR THE CITY as well as a huge physical model of the downtown from which the hosts could draw insights and ideas for next steps.

When the evening wrapped up, the cardboard city itself felt like a giant game board. Building on this feeling and inspired  by people playing for change – OASIS game, Copenhagen better city board game (below), a sentimental pleasure train to childhood memory: Jumanji – Sophia & Rachel had a hunger to further develop this design tool.

copenhagen board game

A few months later upon meting  Edmund he revealed to them the world of the Secret Garden Party.

FYI: The Secret Garden Party is ‘a temporary community that is as free, irreverent, friendly and engaging… we provide the Garden and plant the seeds, but you nurture its life and allow it to blossom’.

He kindly suggested they team-up, evolve the cardboard city concept, and host a cardboard city activity at SGP 2010 to help the SGP team plan for the future.  This would take place in the Limina Tent and be part of their mission to explore  ‘new ways to create transition spaces and events between the rural and urban’.
somewhere in Cambridgeshire, England.

This was an exciting proposition and will be one of the first projects of energy-and-inspiration-packed TEAM YELLOW.

Camera, Lights, Action!

After four days of co-creating we held a dialogue for taking the dreaming to next years design team.

Our SGP conversations focused on: (i) community building & sustainability during SGP, (ii) soft/hard infrastructure ideas to support stronger relationships within the temporary community of SGP, (iii) a vision to spread the wackiness, joy, openness, learning, spectacle, freedom that people thrive on during SGP into our daily lives.


Neighbourhoods & Tribes

  • might reduce theft / increase respect if you know your neighbours & co-create ..?
  • street names in camping areas
  • cultivate your own community in your camping neighbourhood as you arrive
  • neighbourhood ‘placemaking’ challenges (ie. create your street sign)
  • when you get your ticket, you choose a tribe (nomad, metal head) and your camp site sits within that zoning. Important this would be encouraged – not prescribed. See ‘Nowhere Festival’ in Spain (Funhouse / Workhouse)
  • tribe games & competitions  / rhythms & rituals for people to participate in
  • mix residential with commercial (ie. tea & general store)

Create a Daily Festival Newspaper

  • could be updated daily with upcoming events, exciting happenings from the previous day, highlight workshops & new elements of the festival (ie. tribe politics or challenges)
  • newspapers are important elements of socially sustainable communities

Waste not, Want not

  • to reduce the number of people using the landscape as a waste receptacle (think Burning Man’s NTLB – No Trace Left Behind), make the experience of garbage disposal a pleasure
  • BIN FUN GUY: performance art troops to mimic/embarrass people who litter. They could  (for example) take plastic cups from people’s hands & put them in a bin before they get a chance to throw it away. This playful approach was used by the mayor of Bogota, Colombia when he employed mimes to show people how to properly use crosswalks because many deaths occurred from improper use.
  • exchange bags of trash for drink tickets
  • paint the bins bright colours

Precious Resources

  • use visual & performance art to educate people about where resources (water, humanure) come from/go while signalling where these resources actually are sited & encouraging interaction

>>Water, water everywhere

  • Water is a precious resource as a human .. especially at a festival! Because of this, many people gathered around watertaps making them a key node of interaction – often with strangers. How interesting to spontaneously meet people at a festival, not only over liquor or dirty dancing, but over a precious human resource (not that liquor & dancing are not precious)
  • make water fountains a more permanent place of gathering with seating (hay bales perhaps?)

>>Ew, toilets

  • seating areas, music, performance art around the toilet areas
  • more composting toilets

Common Touch Points

  • places like Limina tent that feel ‘home’ & act as a common touch point for different areas of the site
  • more hay bales as places to gather
  • more ‘spaces within spaces’ like the forest
  • tree houses / viewing platforms / escapes
  • things to climb on that kids can use near places where parents want to be

Getting Dirty (Hands & Minds)

  • practical skills workshops (gardening, trades with certificates, permaculture, boat making)
  • on site community gardens
  • more debates!
  • SGP local currency system