The Festival of Ideas, along with other partners, has been involved in the creation of a statement of cultural ambition for the city. The statement is presented here for comment:

Bristol has always been a creative city and a city of ideas. The energy which drove engineering and trade and transformed Bristol in the past appears again in a world in which the creative and knowledge economies and the development and delivery of ideas offer the best route to a sustainable city. We believe that Bristol is already an important cultural and creative city, but the potential remains to be much more: we are determined to be culturally ambitious. This is as much about quality of life for our people here as it is about attracting tourists and companies. This is not civic boosterism: external reviewers such as Comedia and the Work Foundation view Bristol in this way; and the new placemaking initiative sees culture as the key to attracting people, organisations and companies to the city and keeping them here. Cultural activity is the heart of Bristol; it is what we are known for nationally and internationally; and it provides the very foundations for our future as a city.

The last decade has been a good one for culture in Bristol. A golden period of public investment in UK culture has produced remarkable assets across the city – people and networks for creating and developing work, and buildings and institutions through which this work takes place and can be seen. From the city centre flagships of Bristol Old Vic, St Georges, Colston Hall, Watershed and Arnolfini, through Spike Island and the Tobacco Factory, to Knowle West Media Centre and Stokes Croft the city has seen a new cultural vibrancy that also includes a network of thriving commercial music venues and clubs, more intensively used open spaces and the transformation of rundown industrial sites into creative clusters.

Bristol is seen as a hot-bed of creativity and a desirable place for young talent to live and work. And there’s more to come: this year sees the beginning of the Bristol Old Vic renewal project and the opening of Mshed. However, gaps remain: to achieve its potential as a major national cultural player, Bristol needs a new stadium and arena and to complete the Colston Hall project. We also need to offer a wider range of venues and so attract a more diverse programme; and to make sure that our flagship venues in community areas are able to prosper. And we need to develop new funding for new programmes of work – especially new commissioning – so that new art can be created.

The Challenge

We face a great challenge. We know that the next few years will be hard and there will be cuts to budgets. At the end of this month Arts Council England will announce its new National Portfolio Programme in which there will be winners and losers. We are living through a period of great change. But we will not allow the hard-won assets to be dismantled and our cultural ambition lessened: rather, we will defend the city’s cultural offer and will strengthen the case for a thriving cultural economy in which public, private and voluntary sectors have a shared stake, work together, and plan for the long term. We have so far protected cultural grants and are determined that in the long-term cultural budgets will increase – and the priority will be in making new funding available to creative people and organisations. We believe that this is where the priority lies – as it is through the individuals and organisations where culture is created.

Why Culture is Important to Bristol

For us, culture is economically significant but not only of financial value. It includes both world class city-centre institutions and access to excellent cultural opportunities in local communities whether these are local authority facilities and services (venues, museums, libraries, archives, festivals and neighbourhood arts), charitable organisations and profit-making companies. It embraces the unorthodox and the ability to innovate. Colston Hall, Bristol Old Vic, St Georges, the Hippodrome and the O2 Academy are all part of the city’s live performance world, alongside many independent clubs. Commercial and independent cinemas sit side-by-side. The Museum and Art Gallery is part of a thriving museum and galleries sector embracing Arnolfini, Spike Island, Royal West of England Academy, among others. Digital creativity expresses itself through Watershed and the Pervasive Media Studio as it does through Hewlett Packard and the Knowle West Media Centre.

We know that Bristol’s creative industries are a success story. Over the last 20 years they have thrived and this simply isn’t found anywhere else in the region – or indeed this side of Cardiff, Birmingham or London. The recent BBC Anchor agreement is promoting new partnerships and already funding three feature films based in Bristol. There’s much more to come on this.

The key point is that Bristol embraces commercial as well as subsidised activity in a different kind of cultural economy. This gives Bristol a competitive advantage in terms of what makes the city distinctive.

The Role of Bristol City Council

Bristol City Council is determined to support the sector and see it grow. A key part of our work will be bridging the gap between the publicly supported arts and heritage sector and private sector creative industries. It isn’t just about investment and the provision of services. We can help determine the environment in which creativity functions; we can provide strategic leadership – acknowledging culture as an economic driver and a focus for community development and quality of life; we can help create a city in which cultural entrepreneurs flourish; we can develop a better policy of planning and licensing functions; and critically we can act as the city’s advocate, regionally, nationally and internationally. We need to play our part in the West of England as much as in the city and the new Local Enterprise Partnership will help us re-assert the case for culture and creativity at the heart of Bristol and the West of England’s economy. At the same time economic restraints mean that this will have to be done by partnership working, as capacity within the Council itself will be reduced: the Council will move to a more commission based approach and leadership will become defined as teams of organisations working together. This is a substantial change: it means putting as much as possible of the funding the council has into the work of creative people in the city.

The task is turning can into will.

Where we aim to be

We see this as a ten year programme. At the heart of our work is people. People make things happen. Whether working alone as creative individuals, in interest-groups as creative organisations or collectively as creative communities, it is their passion and commitment which make Bristol work as a creative city. We acknowledge the power of the individual as well as the infrastructure. Talent and leadership will be understood as critical economic drivers just as they will be seen as providing the energy for community regeneration.

We will make an environment in which talent and ambition can flourish. Young Bristolians will identify access routes to a creative future in their own city. Artists will gravitate to the city because of the work opportunities it offers. Some will work in the subsidised sector; some will be drawn to the work of thriving commercial companies in the city. Bristol will be seen as a career destination rather than a stepping stone to greater things. We will also provide space for spontaneity. The city’s burgeoning reputation for urban art has come partly from the young artists who have transformed Stokes Croft. The city will embrace all kinds of creative practice as it reflects the diversity which is Bristol’s major strength.

New partners will work with us. The Council’s already strong relationship with Arts Council England will become more closely knit as they assume responsibility for much of the work of the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council. We will also work with them to determine the investment the Council makes in the cultural sector through three grant agreements starting in 2012. Together we will seek to make Bristol a culturally ambitious place. The business sector here sees cultural development as critical. We will build on this belief with new partnerships and funding. Our two universities have a massive contribution to make and are working with partners to maximise this potential. Schools and health care have a strong understanding of how creativity functions in diverse environments. Sustrans has demonstrated the value of public art in its national cycle network. The BBC Natural History Unit has demonstrated that work of international quality can be routinely produced in Bristol. The Legible City project re-asserts the value of the public domain to a creative city.

In ten years Bristol’s cultural organisations and creative industries will have developed into a world-class economic asset. Individuals and businesses will willingly acknowledge a debt to their home city reflected in a desire to promote and support its continuing growth. Relationships between subsidised arts and creative industries will be better understood and acknowledged.

Bristol’s flagship creative organisations will be seen as significant national and international players. They will understand a duty to nurture city talent and to function at the centre of the city’s creative networks. They will have established supportive relationships with each other and with other creative organisations across the city.

New sub-regional arrangements for economic development will be embedded, and the importance of culture as a key attractor for business relocations will be fully recognised. Businesses in the sub-region will actively support the cultural life of the city in recognition of this value.

Education will be a key instrument for cultural development across the city. Primary and secondary schools will better understand and embrace creative education. Universities will be valued for their capacity to bring generations of young talent to the city – a significant proportion of which will choose to stay when their studies are complete. Heritage assets, including science and engineering – both parts of the city’s cultural past, present and future – will be placed at the heart of education programmes to re-animate Bristol’s sense of identity.

City museums, libraries and archives will have an acknowledged role within a sustainable pattern of city-wide learning. Bristol City Council’s neighbourhood partnerships will have sharpened and focused their relationship with citywide creative programmes. Spearheaded by a flourishing new M-Shed, Bristol’s libraries, archives and independent museums will develop a 21st century identity for Bristol which acknowledges its past, feeds its present and looks to its future.

Stronger relationships and links between the subsidised arts and the creative economy will be created. Cultural clusters (public, private and mixed-economy) will provide start-up opportunities for young companies across the creative sector. Established businesses will have grown to the point where they regularly attract and retain talent from outside Bristol as well as providing opportunities for home-grown skills. Bristol’s reputation as a national centre for architecture, design, new media, advertising, film and TV will be secure. The potential of digital technology for the creation of work, education and marketing will be maximised.

This infrastructure will be supported by high-quality work from companies of all kinds and sizes across the creative and heritage disciplines. Year-round programmes of ambition will bring creative organisations together and draw people to the city – both to make work and to experience it through conferences, celebratory events and civic debate. Festivals will act as pulses of energy across the year and as the platforms on which year-round programmes reach their fulfilment. They will balance international reach such as the Harbourside Festival, Balloon Fiesta, Encounters and Festival of Ideas with neighbourhood and specialist celebrations and one-off events. With involvement based on engaged participation rather than passive consumption, more and more people will make and share creative experiences across the city.

Working with commercial companies and the voluntary sector, the City Council will sit at the heart of Bristol’s commitment to culture as a central economic and social driver. Although its capacity for direct involvement will reduce, it will provide political and executive leadership as well as acting as the primary advocate for culture across the city. Cultural development will routinely be driven from a single strategic perspective, providing the framework for city-wide action. The city will acknowledge its responsibilities to the West of England sub-region, recognising that it has the critical mass to support organisations and activities that attract audiences and participants from a wider geographical area. Public investment will reinforce that status.

How to get there

Bristol’s cultural ambition needs to spring from a partnership that embraces the people, organisations and companies in the city. Making this statement is one thing; delivering it is another. We will work with our partners to determine what needs to be done and the resources required.

There are many things that can be done in preparation for the better times ahead. The key task is that cultural development as a priority will be embedded in the council and its partners. We will seek new resources – from what we can spend as a council and what we can get through others. First, we will examine the potential for greater support from our own resources; secondly, we will ensure that we have our lottery investment strategy in place so that bids for capital development, organisational activity and the work of individual artists and creative people are ready for 2013 when the Olympics drops out of the lottery and more funding is available; thirdly, we will play an active role in the development of philanthropy, sponsorship, individual and legacy giving to support organisations and individuals; fourthly, we will lobby hard for the money that Bristol earns to be spent here with the retention of business rates.

Our key targets are 2012 – so that we can maximise lottery investment; 2014 – so that we have in place our strategy for the next round of Arts Council funding; and 2016 – the 800th anniversary of the first Mayor of Bristol and the 250th anniversary of the Bristol Old Vic – which we will make our own capital of culture year, with the largest ever celebration of Bristol and its culture and which will have creative people and activity at its heart.

The important point is that we have made this statement. The task now is to deliver it. Being ambitious about culture means we develop what this city excels in, making it stronger in the future.

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