Contemporary Utopians

What would you wear in your Utopia?

Last weekend, in our Utopian Photo booth workshop, visitors to Somerset House decided on just this, and then made their ideas a reality.

Glitter was thrown, wool was spun and stencils coloured, in order to create the most Utopian robes possible. Even a crepe paper Thomas More costume featured, made by designer John Foley. Whether simple and plain, like the robes More’s Utopians would have worn, or covered in flowers and feathers, each creation was different, just like everyone’s Utopia.

Many people chose to create replicas of  More’s famous hat; others made crowns—a twist on the fact that in More’s Utopia, crowns  would never be worn by general Utopians. Instead, criminals were forced to wear crowns and gold jewellery. Finery was therefore associated with criminality and scorned by Utopians.

Our contemporary Utopians then posed for portraits in our Utopian Photo Booth.

The Utopia Photo Booth workshop will take place again on 14 – 15 January, 14.00 – 17.00 in the Utopian Treasury at Somerset House. More details can be found here.  

Alternative Gift Guide: Recipe for Christmas Leftovers

The below is taken from our Alternative Gift Guide: ideas for a more Utopian festive season. You can find the Gift Guide in the Utopian Treasury until the New Year. 

Make the most of your Christmas leftovers with a recipe from Mickey Reedy, chef at the Skip Garden – a sustainable movable urban food growing garden in the middle of the Kings Cross.

This recipe is very far removed from the traditional Christmas dinner, so possibly quite welcome by the time the leftovers are being served up.

This has been unashamedly modelled on kebab shop wraps but involves the oven, so is less greasy, which may also be expedient by this point in the year. If you’re feeling a little overloaded with carbs, this would work equally without the wrap as a big salad.

For the meat:

  • 500g shredded cooked turkey
  • 1 Table Spoon Ground Cumin
  • 1 Table Spoon Cumin seeds,
  • ½ table spoon of fennel seeds
  • ½ tea spoon of chilli powder
  • Quite a lot of salt and pepper
  • ½  Table spoon of oil of your choice

For the salad:
These quantities are approximate, use what you can lay your hands on.

  • 1/8 of a cabbage shredded
  • ¼ of a shredded icebeg lettuce
  • A couple of tomatoes sliced
  • Sliced raw onion (totally discretionary, can’t stand the stuff myself.)
  • Optional extras include, pickled chillis, pickled turnip, mint, dill, sliced gherkins even, some chilli sauce.

Extras: wraps or pittas, tahini sauce


  • Preheat the oven to 180˚.
  • Place all the spices in a large mixing bowl and thoroughly coat the shredded turkey. Place the turkey on a baking tray as an even layer of meat. Place in the oven for 10 mins or until the meat is looking like it is beginning crisp up.
  • For the tahini sauce mix about a tbsp of tahini with some salt and a spoonful of water until you are happy with the consistency i.e. running a spoon through it leaves a brief trail. A splash of soy sauce is an inauthentic but tasty addition.
  • Cut up all the ingredients as you see fit. I would recommend finely shedding the cabbage and tossing it with a little salt and mix in the tahini.
  • Place all the ingredients carefully in a wrap or pitta. For the best effect, finish the wraps on a hot frying pan or griddle pan until they keep their shape, about 1-2 mins.
  • That’s your spicy antidote to all the seasonal stodge ready. Enjoy!

P.S. The Skip Garden is a vegetarian cafe but we all know turkey leftovers are pretty common at this time of year and we wouldn’t want to see them wasted! 

Longplayer in Conversation

Each year leading cultural figures are invited to conduct a public conversation inspired by Longplayer, a composition which unfolds, in real time, over the course of a millennium. The 2016 Longplayer Conversation took place as part of Utopia 2016 between Ali Smith and Marina Warner.

This event was recorded at Kings College London on 23 November 2016. 

Guardian Live: How to Die a Good Death

“When any die cheerfully, and full of hope, they do not mourn for them, but sing hymns when they carry out their bodies… When they come from the funeral, they discourse of his good life and worthy actions, but speak of nothing oftener and with more pleasure than of his serenity at the hour of death.” (Thomas More, Utopia)

By turning away from death, by ignoring its inevitability, are we making our death more distressing for ourselves and for our loved ones? Giles Fraser and an expert panel shed some light on the positive things that can happen when we face this entirely natural part of life.

This event was recorded at Somerset House on 27 October 2016. It was part of the Guardian Live UTOPIA 2016 talks series, exploring challenges facing contemporary culture and society, and the pivotal role that the arts and culture play in creating the space where dreams can take root.

How to be a COPtimist


#COPtimism = Culture + Optimism + COP 

#COPtimism, a term coined by Julie’s Bicycle CEO Alison Tickell, expresses the joy and hope that followed the historic outcome of the 2015 COP21 climate change talks: the Paris Climate Change Agreement to limit global temperature rise to below 2°C. At COP21, in an unprecedented and unanimous agreement, 195 countries agreed to adopt the first-ever universal, global climate deal.

To celebrate the entry into force of the Paris Agreement on 4th November 2016 Julie’s Bicycle have released a new film, documenting their How To Be A COPtimist conference, held in May 2016 at King’s College London with an audience of over 200 creative professionals from across the arts sector.

The creative and cultural sector mobilised around COP21 with campaigns, events and performances. Julie’s Bicycle convened a letter, signed by more than 350 artists and leaders from the creative community including music, film, theatre, fashion, literature and art, calling for an ambitious climate agreement. To translate the Paris Agreement into reality, we need to continue showing our support for policymakers and politicians at future COP climate change conferences to push them to ambitious commitments. We must continue to take action on our own impacts, inspiring others to work with us and do the same.

As part of their response to the Paris Agreement, Julie’s Bicycle have launched a new pan-European Creative Climate Leadership programme for artists, cultural professionals and policymakers to explore the cultural dimensions of climate change, and take action with impact, creativity and resilience. The CCL programme begins with a five-day training course in Wales, UK. Applications are now open until 16 January 2017. Find out more here.

How To Be A COPtimist is available to watch online and in the Utopia Treasury from 21 November. Join the conversation with #COPtimism.

Grow Your Own Utopia

img_1752-smallWe recently paid a visit to The Skip Garden, a movable urban food growing garden in the middle of the Kings Cross development site. We talked to Director, Nicole Van Den Eljnde about the extraordinary vision and values that underpin this Utopian oasis, nestled amongst the rise of glass and steel buildings.

Q & A

What was the original inspiration behind Skip Garden?
The Charity behind The Skip Garden is Global Generation, set up 12 years ago. The original idea was to give young people a wider perspective of the world and a sense that we are all connected and part of the same planet. We initially took young people to our campsite in Wiltshire. Now The Skip Garden brings that experience to the middle of the city.

In what ways can people come and get involved?
img_1636-smallWe love having people in the garden and have many different ways that you can get involved. We are open Tuesday to Saturday. We offer internships, or you can volunteer, visit the garden, eat at the cafe, or hire out the space for your own party. We also have lots of events – we run twilight sessions every other Wednesday where everyone helps us with the Skip Garden and we all have a sit down meal together.

You need to be able to move when a development plot is sold. How has this impacted the creative practice of the project?
I think being creative and adaptable have been key. For us each move has brought more opportunities to make new connections. You are able to keep the good things and re-invent. We are however a small charity and it costs a lot of money to move everything and create a new site, but it does allow people to give in other ways than just with money by offering their own skills and time.

In what ways has the community surprised you with their response to the project?
We run a programme called lunch and learning, where we bring together young children from local primary schools with construction workers. You wonder what they are going to have in common? Are they going to be able to work together? But I’m constantly being surprised when, given the opportunity to work with people who aren’t the same as us, there can be so much common ground.

We would like to share with you three ways ‘Utopians’ approached food in Thomas More’s fictional society. What do you imagine the impact would be if any of these were true?

1. Food is Free
Huge! On a social equality level I think there is a huge problem at the moment with food. There has been a revival of organic food and small producers, which is great, but this is very much for people who can afford it. At the same time, obesity levels are rising and junk food or ready meals are often more affordable. The divide between rich and poor is getting a lot bigger because of food.

2. Everyone experiences growing food
I am still shocked when people don’t know that a plant is grown or a vegetable you pick up in the supermarket comes from a field. This complete loss of connection to what we eat is a loss of connection to life on the planet. By reconnecting, choices become more deliberate, and I think we enjoy food more.

3. Food is served for the community to share together.
I think eating together is important and also minimises food waste. Our staff always eat together. The chefs create something new with the leftovers from the cafe for the staff to eat the next day, like a stew or a quiche. You can be so creative with food waste and that’s also what we teach young people in our workshops.

img_1697-smallAnd finally, we are crowd-sourcing a practical guide to Utopia which will be published in early 2017. Can you describe an idea that would take us towards your Utopia?

Moving away from an idea of a perfect world, there is something about living and being within our imperfect world and what you can do with that. I think you can get caught up with wanting something better and always being unsatisfied. So for me Utopia is about the here and the now and what choices we make individually and collectively.

Submit your Utopian idea here


Guardian Live: How to Live a Happy Life

The Guardian journalist Dawn Foster joins an expert panel: Vanessa King, a positive psychology expert, board member of Action for Happiness and author of 10 Keys to Happier Living; Mark Rice-Oxley, the Guardian’s head of special projects, writer on mental health and author of Underneath the Lemon Tree; and Ruth Whippman, a journalist and author of The Pursuit of Happiness and Why It’s Making Us Anxious.


This event was recorded at Somerset House on     1 September 2016. It was part of the Guardian Live UTOPIA 2016 talks series, exploring challenges facing contemporary culture and society, and the pivotal role that the arts and culture play in creating the space where dreams can take root.

What is your Utopia?

As part of Paths to Utopia, visitors have been answering questions about their Utopia to help us create a map that charts how one man’s Utopia… is different to another’s. The Utopias close together are by people who have answered our questions similarly – different areas mean divergent views. We’re interested to see which area of the map becomes most densely populated. What does your Utopia look like? 

Answer our questions >

Now see where your Utopia is located on the map >



Music Heard through Utopia

For many people music is where they find their utopia— whether it be an individual moment or a communal feeling gained from sharing a listening experience with a hall, club, church, living room or basement full of people, both can be magical.

It seems Thomas More recognised the importance of music, including mentions of music being played throughout his 1516 book ‘Utopia’. Utopians are called to dinner by trumpet and, when at leisure, listen to music in their communal gardens. However, what isn’t described in detail by More, or rather, Raphael Hytholday (the character who tells us of the island Utopia) is the sound of the music.

From ska to contemporary classical, we have done just this, selecting six musicians who epitomise in some way themes found in Thomas More’s book – governance, education, travel, work, making and communal living.

To listen to the tracks, and read more about their relevance to Utopia, visit the online exhibition Music Heard through Utopia here.

The Specials AKA – Free Nelson Mandela, 1984.

Bobbie-Jane Gardner – Many Hands Make Light Work, 2014.

The Incredible String Band – Empty Pocket Blues, 1970.

Cornelius Cardew – Revolution is the Main Trend in the World Today, 1974.

Laura Eldret – Song For a Tradesman Choir, 2011.

Young Fathers – Shame, 2015.