“Bristol, Bristol the city that was built on the bricks of heroic hardship.
“Bristol, Bristol the place of dreams and possibilities the place of creative aspirations, culture, commerce and its own seductive music.
“Bristol, Bristol a place still haunted by the ancestral ghost that echoes the historical hangover that yet sobered us up to what time hasn’t changed.”
These are the words of my good friend Miles Chambers, Bristol’s first City Poet, describing a city of contrasts. On the one hand we’re a booming city with a reputation as being a capital for culture and a centre for the arts. On the other hand, we’re a city where poverty and hardship are commonplace with communities struggling to share in the benefits our growing economy offers.
Cultural organisations must play a part in addressing the disconnect between opportunity and communities and Bristol Old Vic is trying to do so. A prominent and renowned centre for culture, the theatre sits at the heart of Bristol’s international cultural offer and is currently undergoing a major refurbishment to its iconic structure.
Last week I had the privilege of a guided ‘hard-hat’ tour of the site and an opportunity to speak to the people behind the scenes about their plans and how they continue to develop an internationally acclaimed theatre programme that their community work sits around.
Many will know the Bristol Old Vic’s work in putting on major stage productions but there is another side to their work that brings communities to their offer and is fed by the success of their stage programme.
This work taps directly into developing communities and people and reflects an organisation and leadership that understands the challenges our city faces in building a place where everyone’s experience is one of hope and ambition.
This community work they undertake along with that of others in the cultural sector plays a big role in our shared vision of a city where everyone benefits from the success of our arts and culture sector. Whilst as a council we continue to provide what funds we can to the sector we recognise that shrinking budgets mean a greater need for the city to rise and throw its support behind these organisations.
What we need now are for businesses and individuals to consider what they can do to drive change in the city and engage in the cultural sector to explore opportunities to grow our communities. Those interested in being part of our journey should come forward; have a conversation, write an email, share a donation with these groups and be part of combating inequality and breaking down the barriers to opportunity.
We have an ambition of narrowing the social and economic divisions in our city. I am delighted the Old Vic is sharing that ambition and I look forward to continuing our city partner relationship.