The Arts Mansion, Ashton Court, Bristol.
Words and Photographs by BWV Reporter Suzi Bratt
The Futur Ville Summit at Ashton Court Arts Mansion last weekend was a welcome opportunity to participate in an energetic discussion about the future of Bristol and the role art might play in the city’s wider development. International, national and local speakers came together from a variety of backgrounds; including architects, developers, activists, artists and cultural leaders; to discuss the complex relationship between artists and the community, the effect of art on both regeneration and gentrification and the impact of cultural policy in shaping the future of the city. From Saturday’s programme alone I made almost twenty pages of notes, leaving the venue with plenty of new ideas to digest.
On entering the building I was struck by the friendliness of both the staff and attendees. I was immediately welcomed by a pair of wand wielding, pink haired ladies who proceeded to extract any negative, creative baggage I might have brought with me before ushering me inside. I promptly helped myself to a cup of coffee and wandered into the hall to take my seat, glad to see I was unexpectedly early. It was a fascinating experience simply to be inside the mansion, nestled within Ashton Court Estate. I’ve walked past the historic yellow building, not to be confused with Dower House near the M32, many times. I’ve often wondered why it’s not open to the public like Tyntesfield or Blaise Castle. As it turns out, the somewhat dilapidated building belongs to Bristol City Council and in May 2018 Artspace Lifespace, a charity that recycles problematic properties into creative hubs, took on the project whilst the long term future and eventual repair were discussed. Something of a meanwhile space, a bridge between the forgotten and the possible, it seemed like a fitting venue for the day’s talks.
A great deal of passion and consideration is directed towards the arts in Bristol, but like many other cities the sector faces a number of ongoing issues. These include prolonged austerity, cuts to funding and the lack of a unified voice within the many different communities, organisations, independent practitioners and venues across the city. The weekend’s focus on actionable strategies took the form of panel discussions, workshops, talks and working groups addressing issues from equality and lobbying to the disadvantages of meanwhile space. Redundant properties are given to arts organisations for a limited time period before being subsequently developed, often into luxury accommodation that financially benefits from the prolonged period of growth and improvement introduced by creative development of the area. Artists have come under fire as the vanguard of gentrification. Whilst it is important to be aware of this effective complicity, the final benefactor doesn’t appear to be the artists, or the wider community they so often work within.
I left the summit aware of a need for careful and considerate development of art and culture in the city, particularly in protection of local communities and the artists that work within them. It was suggested that meanwhile spaces are not enough and if the arts are to continue to flourish, thought needs to be given to where they might be permanently located. The creation of networks and events that communicate this message could be the key to ensuring the cultural offering of Bristol, a city that seems to take great pride in its diverse communities and dynamic artistic output, continues to advocate for and engage with it’s inhabitants from every walk of life. Art is a great tool to bring communities together and promote creativity and confidence in more than just a professional practice. Maybe as we move forward it would be wise to consider what value it brings to our society, our community and ourselves. My hope is that through events such as this and the actions they create, we might bring the discussion of development to a wider audience, ensuring we all have a say in the continued development of our ever changing city, in what feels like an uncertain future.
Artspace Lifespace – https://artspacelifespace.com/about/