We have invited partners and participants in the Festival of the Future City to contribute articles on areas of work they are engaged in of relevance to the upcoming events. Phil Gibby is Area Director, South West, Arts Council England.

IBT15_FujikoNakaya_FogBridge_Photo(C)GayleLaird

Statistics tell us that by 2050 around three out of every four of us will live in cities.

That’s quite a mind-blowing statistic. And quite a challenge.

With more of us living in ever-closer proximity, there are growing pressures on vital resources , on infrastructures and energy, on our housing and, fundamentally, on our sense of ourselves and communities.

But what has any of that got to do with arts and culture?

Obviously, environmental sustainability is an issue of global significance. The Arts Council wants the arts and cultural sector in this country to take a lead in making the world a more sustainable, responsible and equitable place and to transform itself into a low-carbon, sustainable and resilient sector. The consequences of climate change require us all to take care in our use of resources, and to ensure that we do not pursue short-term gain at the expense of future generations.

In 2012, Arts Council England became the first arts funding body in the world to embed environmental sustainability into the funding agreements of its major programmes. This move was based on our conviction – shared by arts leaders – that environmental sustainability is no longer a ‘nice to have’ but a business critical issue and an essential building block for a resilient arts and cultural sector.

In October 2013 we published the second edition of our strategic framework, Great Art and Culture for Everyone in which we stated that the Arts Council is committed to ensuring that we, and the organisations and projects that we fund, embrace environmental sustainability and reduce our carbon footprint.

As part of our commitment we work in partnership with Julie’s Bicycle, the leading global charity bridging the gap between environmental sustainability and the creative industries. Their aim is a creative community with sustainability at its heart and we are supporting them in a nationwide programme of workshops, webinars, resources and leadership to make that happen.

But there’s more the arts can offer to future cities than making our own sector sustainable.

At the Arts Council we believe that great arts and culture are integral to our lives: they bring people together and help us define our community and sense of place. They make an enormous contribution to health and well-being, reduce social exclusion and isolation, and make communities feel safer and stronger.

Great art challenges our ways of thinking and shows us alternative ways of living. It can inspire change, find new ways to think about things, start debates.

Artists can draw attention to a particular issue and inform people about it, can create work that employ or engage with the natural world and can creatively re-envision ways of living.

There’s no doubt that cities matter to the UK. It’s where most of our future growth is forecast to happen – economic and otherwise – but, more than that, they are also the hothouses of our cultural and creative life.

Bristol is an excellent example of this, a creative hotspot with businesses promoting innovation and economic growth, and the arts are right at the heart.

In first major speech our new Chief Executive Darren Henley said:

Good things don’t happen by accident; they happen because people share a vision and work together to make that a reality.

In Bristol, we’ve worked with the city’s leaders and its people to help the arts and cultural sector thrive through collaborations between organisations, producers, artists and venues. This has created the conditions for talent and ambition to flourish.

Bristol 2015 was an opportunity to create a programme of enormous ambition that is making a real impact. Through our largest ever Exceptional Award we have supported a whole year of events and activities like Luke Jerram’s abandoned flotilla of fishing boats in Leigh Woods and the Bristol Whales swimming in Millennium Square and helping us all to think about the environment in imaginative, playful and provocative ways.

At Arnolfini, Richard Long’s major new solo exhibition and new commission on The Downs is making us see nature with fresh eyes; Arcadia’s iconic Spider awoke amongst the histories and traditions of Queen Square, uniting sustainable ideas with art and music in a seminal moment of spectacle; and this autumn Theaster Gates will transform, repurpose and hear this city through the temporary occupation of a very special space.

And, of course, we’ve also supported Festival of the Future City, bringing together thinkers, writers, artists, think tanks, governments and the public in the largest ever debate about future-thinking.

We believe that great art brings opportunities educationally, socially and economically for all of us; that the diversity of our local communities is important to our future. We want the arts to be a part of your everyday life, no matter who you are and where you live.

Now – and in the future.

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Withdrawn, mock up by Luke Jerram
Illustrations: Top: Fujiko Nakaja’s Fog Bridge in Bristol, February 2015 (photo copyright: Gayle Laird). Above: Luke Jerram’s mock-up for Withdrawn.

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