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New consortium awarded £1.18 million to transform the future of visual arts in Bristol and the West of England

Izzy Mooney, Dreamtime Fellow at Spike Island supported by artist Luke Jerram (2019) Photograph by Rebecca Goldman

New consortium awarded £1.18 million to transform the future of visual arts in Bristol and the West of England

We are thrilled to announce a new consortium partnership, the West of England Visual Arts Alliance, has been awarded £1.18 million by Arts Council England to transform the future of visual arts in Bristol and the West of England.

A new National Lottery development fund was launched by Arts Council England in 2020 to increase professional development opportunities and commissioning capacity for the visual arts, and to ensure ambition and opportunity is thriving in this region. In response, a new consortium partnership of nine organisations across the region was formed to bring about this step change.

Co-led by Spike Island and Visual Arts South West, the consortium includes partners Bath Spa University School of Art, Bristol City Council, The Brunswick Club, Creative Youth Network, Culture Weston, North Somerset Council and UWE Bristol. Our collective vision is for the visual arts community in Bristol and the West of England to be more progressive, sustainable and inclusive by 2024.

Over the next three years, the West of England Visual Arts Alliance programme aims to transform Bristol and the West of England into a place where the visual arts can thrive, providing critical opportunities and support to enable diverse local artists, curators and young people to develop their careers and achieve their potential.

Specific detail on the hundreds of opportunities will be announced soon, to include:

  • 2,760 opportunities for at least 500 artists
  • 3 artist development programmes led by Spike Island, Visual Arts South West and The Brunswick Club
  • Online and place-based mentoring, resources and interdisciplinary skills workshops
  • Research and development bursaries of between £500–£1,000 awarded to more than 15 South West-based artists, curators and independent art workers each year
  • Major new commissioning and exhibition opportunities for South West-based artists
  • Research and development fellowships of £10k awarded to 3 South West-based artists, artist-led groups or other independent art workers each year
  • New positive action policies for subsidised studio provision and artist development opportunities, designed to remove barriers to access for underrepresented groups
  • New fellowship and mentoring opportunities for artists, curators and young people, developed with Creative Youth Network

Artists and curators who would like to hear first about these opportunities are encouraged to sign up to the Spike Island and/or Visual Arts South West mailing lists.

This strategic partnership will also provide support for access costs and network hubs, help artist-led groups to secure urgently needed homes, and enable artist-led organisations and studio providers to become more sustainable and inclusive by adopting new models of best practice. By advocating for the visual arts to be embedded in the region’s strategic development, it aims to ensure that the sector’s role in regeneration, well-being, and economic and community development is fully recognised.

Phil Gibby, Area Director, South West, Arts Council England, says:

“We are delighted to be announcing more details of our £1.18 million development programme, Supporting Visual Arts Progression in Bristol and the West of England, and we’re pleased to announce that the partnership consortium, the West of England Visual Arts Alliance, will be the recipient of the funding award.

The programme was designed with the local visual arts ecology in mind, to transform the opportunities in Bristol and across the West of England. This is the best opportunity we’ve had to direct a substantial amount of investment towards the development of the visual arts in the city and region.

The consortium’s proposal looks set to realise the principal recommendations from the review by creating a more robust package of professional development opportunities for artists living and working in the West of England; increasing the number of commissions open to artists in the region; and nurturing the connectivity between artists and other players in the visual arts ecosystem.

This development fund will help Arts Council to deliver our strategic vision, as set out in Let’s Create 2020-30 and will help to ensure England’s cultural sector is innovative, collaborative and international by backing organisations and creative practitioners to excel at what they do.”

Peter Heslip, Director, Visual Arts and Brighton, Arts Council England, says:

“England has a remarkable, dynamic tradition in the visual arts, and attracts gifted artists, curators and leaders from all over the world to work and study here. This world leading creativity helps make people proud of our country.

Following the last Arts Council National Portfolio investment round, we ringfenced funding for visual arts in the south west to be deployed in consultation with artists, producers, curators and stakeholders to ensure that Bristol and the West of England could further develop its reputation as a vibrant centre of visual arts excellence.

So now I’m thrilled that the significant funding award we have made to the West of England Visual Arts Alliance will benefit a diverse range of artists at every stage of their career and create a sustainable, long term step change in the visual arts in the south west region. The programme also has strong potential to be a blueprint of best practice for other places, providing an inclusive and scalable model for professional development and commissioning capacity in the visual arts.”

Robert Leckie, Director at Spike Island, says on behalf of the West of England Visual Arts Alliance:

“The awarding of this funding to the West of England Visual Arts Alliance partnership is a significant moment for the visual arts in Bristol and the West of England – it gives us an exceptional opportunity to build a more resilient, progressive and inclusive sector. We can’t wait to start delivering on the many exciting projects and opportunities that this funding enables, to benefit local artists, curators and young people, and for the impact and importance of the visual arts in our region to be more widely recognised.”

Richard Blows, Partnerships Lead at North Somerset Council, says:

“At North Somerset Council we have placed arts and culture at the heart of our ambitions for Weston-super-Mare.  Working with our local partner Culture Weston, we believe that West of England Visual Arts Alliance will help us build the visibility, capacity and impact of the visual arts sector in the town. It is a comprehensive programme that will help deliver our shared ambitions to grow and retain local talent, promote the role of visual arts in the public realm and create a sustainable visual arts ecology by generating creative uses for empty retail spaces, whilst also enabling our visual artists to be part of a larger collective that can bring knowledge, skills and expertise to Weston.”

Artists and curators who would like to hear first about these opportunities are encouraged to sign up to the Spike Island and/or Visual Arts South West mailing lists.