Tom morris, 14 January 2017

This was a great session

It started out being a specific conversation about Bristol Ferment (Bristol Old Vic's

artist development programme) and the opportunities it does and doesn't offer artists

making new work in Bristol.

It then broadened out into a conversation about available opportunities in general and

the collective responsibility of the city's funded organisations to make sure there was a

balanced range of opportunity across the city.

The chat about Ferment was vividly polarised between a celebration of it's flexible

application of resource to the specific needs of any given artist or company on the one

hand (efficient, clever and transformative) - and a sense that the way it selected its

artists was untransparent, immutable and poorly communicated on the other.

This developed into a fascinating conversation about creative gatekeeping and ended

up with something like a consensus that the city in general needed a combination of

opportunities for artists making new work- some subjectively curated (in which the

gatekeeper was backing their own subjective passion and instinct about the potential

of artists who made them excited about what they might do next) and others

objectively selected (in which there was open application for assessment by a panel

against published criteria). There was also talk of whether an element of entirely

random selection might be an enriching addition to this mix (pick a card or roll a dice

for a commission) - and that within the subjective gate-keeper model it was a good

idea to have fixed terms of office for gatekeepers.

I explained that part of the reason for posting the question was that Bristol Ferment is

entirely funded from trusts and foundations (it's not part of Bristol Old Vic's ACE

funding agreement) and that Emma Bettridge (Ferment Producer) and I are very keen

to make sure that it evolves in a way that both works for the benefit of the artists it

supports and feels fair and clear to the creative community of Bristol. We know there

are flaws in the system we have, for all its strengths.

Alongside this there is also rich opportunity for all arts organisations in Bristol offering

this kind of opportunity to collaborate and communicate better about what we are

doing. The group felt that this could apply to cross-artform opportunities too and Rob

from Arnolfini popped into the conversation at this point to confirm his enthusiasm for

this approach.

We therefore agreed that there should be a further open discussion of all these issues

hosted at Bristol Old Vic and advertised through the Theatre Bristol Newsletter and

other available networks.

The aim of this conversation will be to learn from Bristol artists so that we can improve

the opportunities we offer at Bristol Old Vic (and communicate them better) and also to

collaborate better with others offering similar opportunities so we can between us

release the potential of a wider range and a higher number of Bristol's extraordinary


I have to say that there was a lot of love for the Theatre Bristol Newsletter from the

artists in the group, and for Theatre Bristol in general.

At around this point Dan from Hamilton House (google it if you don't know what it is)

talked about new opportunities for subsidised space for arts use in Hamilton House.

This sparked a conversation bemoaning the collapse of the Council's brilliant initiative

to make un-used space available to artists in the city. There is just much less than

there was and the community was vociferous about the negative impact of this.

On the back of this, we felt that we should all help Theatre Bristol to do two other


1. Develop a map of creative opportunity for the city (i.e. a list of all the funding and

showcase opportunities (from Ferment to Wardrobe to Cube) together with a summary

of what the criteria are for each. Bristol Old Vic will help with this.

2. Develop it's existing map of available rehearsal space and also help us to persuade

a wider uptake of the policy we trialled at Bristol Old Vic (before the current building

work obvs) to advertise any unsold rehearsal space to the creative public for free

every friday.

We also talked about ladders, pyramids and funnels of development. You can pick

your metaphor. But the group seemed in remarkable agreement about the principles

that operate in these. There is a sort of Darwinian element to any workable scheme, in

which a wide invitation with little resource graduates (or evolves) towards a narrow

invitation with more concentrated resource. The priority of the group seemed to be


1. that the opportunity to progress up the ladder/funnel/pyramid was genuine

2. that the way the system worked was transparently communicated.

Sitting alongside the strong sense that a diversity of opportunity was important across

the city, this seemed to be the main implicit recommendation oft the group (again,

please correct me, any who were present, if i misunderstood this).

The subtext to this animated and inspiring conversation was a realisation that much of

Bristol's celebrated creative community exists in the barely-subsidised sector, with

many artists living by other means and committing time for free to their creative work.

Within this model, free space and any performance opportunity is hugely valuable but

we also have to accept that there are economic barriers to participation in a culture of

this kind which might slow down its cultural and economic diversification. For

reference, this is close to the economic culture within which much of the most exciting

experimental work in North America has evolved over the last 50 years.

Related announcements:

The Creative Mum discussion requested a monthly meeting space for creative mums

with children to meet in.

Nincompoops at the excellent Wardrobe Theatre operates a

“pay-what-you-think-it-was-worth” ticket price which has worked very well.

Tom, also operating at the Wardrobe is offering radically accessible development

opportunities in puppetry, feeding towards his puppet cabaret.

many thanks to all for this brilliant session


Comments: 1

Annette Chown, 15 January 2017

I agree, I thought this session was great. Thank you, Tom, for calling it. I have collated everyone's email addresses from the

sheet and will be sending them to Catherine from Theatre Bristol, to make sure you receive the newsletter with details of the

discussion to be hosted by Bristol Old Vic.  If you weren't in attendance but want to join the discussion, sign up to the

Theatre Bristol mailing list:

Those in attendance were:

Daniel Balla

Catherine Boot

Rob Bowman

Ed Browning

Annette Chown

Kirsty Cox

Jack Drewry

Charlotte Dubery

Florence Espeut-Nickless

Lucy Harrington

Ian Harris

Alan Mandel

Rosamond Martin

Tom McDonagh

Tom Morris

Jack Price

John Ward

Lizzie Wiggs