What can Somerset (and other nearby counties) learn from Bristol?

 2 July 2012

As was asked of me, I felt passion and responsibility for my question. But clearly no one else did, as I found myself sat on my own noting down answers I didn't have

I began to ponder why people hadn't attended the session. Were the other sessions more appealing? I was up against:

- Apprenticeships & internships - free labour?
- How do you get where you want to be without kissing ass or being a twat? / How do we measure success and how do you know if you achieve it?
- Devoted and depressingly stiff and sore. Doing some stretching.

I myself had wanted to go to the second session and as Seth Honnor said - when he briefly attended my session - there had been a similar session earlier in the day looking at how Bristol could have stronger links with Exeter, London and elsewhere. But even that session went wildly off topic and I'm not sure answered any of the questions people went looking for.

So I guess my question became: Is it true Bristol is unwilling to support and share with its struggling neighbours? It is not a belief I personally hold, but I have heard many say that Bristol is very insular and cliquey - perhaps they just don't want to give away those secret and special ingredients to their unique recipe of success?

Then I wondered if I had worded the question wrong. Seeming as Bristol was hosting the event, should it have been Bristol focused? Should it have read - What can Bristol teach Somerset (and other nearby counties)? Or would it not have made a difference?

Another good point from Seth was as a city, which by it's nature pulls people (creative or not) from far and wide towards it, should it feel obliged to look outwards and help the little places and people outside?

I pondered this, and quite rightly, when Bristol has it's own problems and issues to discuss and deal with - why should it give a moments thought to others in need? In which case, perhaps D&D does need to come to Somerset, as we may well be up for travelling to Bristol, Plymouth and Exeter to discuss Theatre in Somerset - but does anyone else, in those places, want to listen to or deal with our issues on top of their own?

(Seth also suggested a document, which he is going to email me - and I can forward onto others, or try and attach here which he thought might give me the insight I was after. It's Theatre Bristol Strategic Plan 2009/10/11 and details the story, background and rise of Bristol's Theatre Scene. So, please let me know if you're interested in reading or hearing more about that.)

Basically, I could analyse my question and the lack of people at my session till the cows come home - but how did I go about answering my question?

With difficulty! I genuinely didn't have the answers and so desperately wanted those answers from Bristol based people.

But let me me try. I shall start by telling you what I would have told any attenders of the session, and please feel free to join this session online - because as Phelim encouragingly said - ‘it’s not over till it's over' and there really is still plenty of time to discuss and think about this question online.

So, the previous day I had been to a session called ‘Is Bristol really the most creative city in Europe?’ Involving mostly disgruntled people, explaining why it really wasn't, they explained that Bristol makes itself out to be this wonderful place and that that has a very misleading ‘Dick Whittington’ effect on young up starts who come to Bristol believing that ‘the streets are paved with theatre’.

I am afraid I am one of those starry eyed, young up starts - feeling a pull to the exciting, theatre paved streets of Bristol. To me Bristol is an epicentre of creativity with just the right mix of (but not always enough of) talent, venues, resources and funding. A seemingly, very attractive and healthy place to be. And I'm still inclined to believe this, despite some people's disgruntlement!

Somerset, in comparison, has a lot less talent, venues, resources and funding but IT STILL HAS THEM!! They're just not coming together to create a community or a scene. It feels like there's no infrastructure, networks, forums to make all this happen - and without these, all this talent, funding and resources ups and leaves to places like Bristol and beyond.

So perhaps Somerset needs that. It needs a central hub, an epicentre for people, money, venues and resources to meet and make things happen (AND IT NEEDS A D&D!!). And that may well be taking shape through Creative Somerset

http://www.creativesomerset.com/ and Take Art http://www.takeart.org/, but is it worth sticking around to see if it does? Or is it only the generations below me that will truly benefit from a successful arts scene in Somerset?

And what about making it happen now? Is that something I, or others like me, could do? Because it's all very well saying this is what we need but who's going to do it? Who's going to invest time, money, effort, resources into Somerset when there's already exciting things to get involved with and to invest in in places like Bristol? And on top of this, it feels like there's already the can-do attitude and acceptance of such things in Bristol - where as Somerset needs to change attitudes, build bonds and relationships before it can make anything particularly worthwhile happen.

So I started thinking why Somerset might be a good place to stay:

- It's a blank canvas - with no scene, no structures - anything and everything is possible.
- Little / no competition
- Area of development and regeneration

- Great transport links to Bristol / Exeter / Plymouth / London

And what Bristol has that Somerset (Taunton) doesn't:

- Infrastructure
- Funding
- A supportive local authority
- University
- Diversity of people, arts organisations and venues

(This is an area I need more help with not knowing Bristol all that well - so please help me to add to the two lists and to bottom out the differences, similarities and things we could share between us.)

Following on from my point on diversity, perhaps Somerset (Taunton) needs to encourage diversity and give incentives to different people, businesses, organisations to set up and start there and then as quality of life and industry improves, people might have good reasons to stay and an arts scene may start to grow and flourish?

So that's a start to the thinking I had by myself.

I wanted to hear from the people of Bristol what was great about them and how others could be more like that. It seems Bristol didn't want to boast - but come on - you can start that conversation now and share and celebrate the Bristol we came together to shout about!

Awaiting your virtual conversations,

Kelly ;)


forum., networks, Theatre, money, Venues, Bristol, arts, bristol, infrastructure, creativity, somerset, Funding, sharing, funding, talent, venues, networking, resources, theatre

Comments: 3

Hannah Silva, 18 July 2012

Went to D&D in Plymouth today and thought I'd browse Bristol reports...I think it's an excellent question - perhaps if you would have asked it at the Plymouth D&D they'd have been plenty of people to discuss it with-but perhaps still Seth would be the only Bristol representative!

Seems to me Bristol has made a big effort to prioritise theatre makers and artists that live in the city-other counties have not

made that commitment..various reasons..theatres struggling & over stretched/funders haven't made it a pre-requisite of the funding/no coherent cultural strategy..? Theatre Devon &Wide Awake Devon only just starting..

My first experience of talking to a Somerset organisation was to be told all funding to arts had been cut and they couldn't take any risks etc. So I backed off. Robert Miles at the Brewhouse is brilliant but again, overworked, understaffed etc.

However, Robert offered the Brewhouse for a future D&D - so let's follow that up & have this conversation in person...

Seth Honnor, 20 July 2012

Two docs that provide a reasonably good background to the story for theatre in Bristol over about a 5 year period or so are Bristol Live - A Performance Culture of Ambition and Theatre Bristol's strategic Plan 2009 - 20012.

I should point out that this strategy has now been superseded by a new plan which can be found on Theatre Bristol's website.

catherine church, 21 September 2012

Dear Kelly

I have just read your report and I am in the middle of our Winchester D and D Roadshow. I also had noone turn up to my session by the way, not that that is why I am writing to you.

I think your question is great - grew up in Taunton 30 or so years ago and have a passion and certainly an attachment for Somerset.

I would say that considering myex county has pretty recently become the only county council to cut its arts provision by 100%, that it is at a point where any lovely voice like yours needs support.
I loved the Brewhouse when I lived there and it was part of why I love and work in theatre now, the beauty of the country side and much much more are all inspirational unique elements to a hidden gem of a county.

I guess all I wanted to say was good luck and keep going - Somerset is a wonderful place and deserves an innovative theatre ecology with an identity beautifully distinct from Exeter and Bristol. Dont get hung up about what the cities are doing - what you are doing is the place its at!

Cath Church www.platform4.org