Spike Island

Visual Arts in Bristol: an open invitation

Over the past few months, we’ve been talking about the visual arts in Bristol with a great many people. The conversations have been passionate and committed, some concerned, others hopeful about the future. Certainly the ground beneath our feet is shifting. There is a dynamic energy bristling through the visual arts in our city and a shared desire to improve the profile of what we all do nationally and internationally.

Bristol is an incredibly fertile context for artistic practice. More and more artists are coming to live and work here, whether due to the international reputation of our artistic and curatorial talent, the level of critical debate on offer, the potential of cross-artform exchange, the richness of collections and archives, the viral nature of artistic interventions across public spaces, or the vitality of our studios.

But despite the tenacity and vision of individuals across the city, the future looks uncertain. Government and local authority funding will decrease across the public sector - affecting everyone from artists to arts organisations, art schools to start-up designers, freelancers to arts educators - changing the way in which we live and work in this city.

The visual arts are a vital component of Bristol’s cultural success, but unlike theatre or digital media here, there is a broad consensus that the visual arts sector has not yet succeeded in telling a cohesive and dynamic story locally. Why not? What’s holding us back?

We feel passionate about the visual arts in this city and compelled to start a conversation that might open up different perspectives. So, we’re inviting you to join us for an Open Space discussion on Monday 16th September about the future of the visual arts in Bristol.

We want to discuss with you what a thriving visual arts ecology might look like: What kinds of support and opportunities do artists and curators need at different stages of their careers? What do you think the role of funded organisations should be? Do we have the spaces and resources we need? What can be learned from other visual arts communities around the globe? What do audiences value about the visual arts in this city and how can we foster wider and deeper engagement with what we do? What might we expect from our funders and patrons? Do you think the visual arts are championed as one of Bristol’s great success stories and if not, why not?

Our discussions might lead to all sorts of outcomes. One might be a visual arts strategy for the city – but would that be useful, to whom and what would this enable us to do together?

We're going to be using a format for the meeting called Open Space, which may be familiar to you. It is an interactive and inclusive way of structuring a meeting that allows you, the participant, to set the agenda. A strength of Open Space is its ability to unite groups of enormous diversity. So, whoever you are, if you have an interest in the visual arts in Bristol, we’d like to invite you to join us to see if we can work together to imagine the future for the visual arts.

The event takes place at St. George's on Monday 16 September, 11am–3pm. It is free, and we’ll provide food and drink and make sure you are well looked after. All that we ask is that you tell us that you’re coming by booking your free ticket in advance.

We're also taking this opportunity to start to build a picture of the Bristol Visual Arts highlights and achievements over the past year. You can contribute by taking part in a very short survey and post questions and ideas for the Open Space event.

This invitation is open to everyone, so please pass it on to anyone you think might be interested. We hope to see you there.

Best wishes

Alexis, Claire, Helen, Julie, Phil and Tom

Alexis Butt, Acting Director, RWA; Claire Doherty, Director, Situations; Helen Legg, Director, Spike Island; Julie Finch, Director and Phil Walker, Public Programmes Manager, Bristol Museums, Galleries and Archives and Tom Trevor, Director, Arnolfini.