The Need - Visual Arts in Bristol
On the surface level Bristol might look like there is a lot of creativity and arts provision, however many artist spaces are at risk of being lost as the artists don't own their buildings.
Many grassroots projects come and go each year. It is hard to create resilient models of practice in this part of the ecology due to an inherent impermanence, short leases, long funding deadlines, skills gaps and lack of economy of scale.
There is a perfect storm in Bristol with many different changes and uncertainties coming together to be a disruptive force in the visual arts ecology. Not least, changes to leadership in the city’s anchor arts organisations, a 40% drop in city council arts funding, National Portfolio Organisation funding cuts to some of our major institutions, a property market boom and wider societal changes.
A lack of stability
We are setting up Bricks to respond to the increasing trend of artist spaces being closed down due to lack of affordable, sustainable and accessible venues and arguably a lack of robust mixed economy business models. Since 2013, house prices in Bristol have risen on average 8.9% year on year according to HomeTrack, which is driving housing development up and reducing opportunities for artists and the local communities they work in to survive. National planning policy decisions such as Permitted Development allow easy conversion of office stock to residential. This and the high value/ demand for residential accommodation, has resulted in developers buying up stock that might have previously been artists’ studios and converting them, greatly reducing the opportunity for artists spaces. Where in the past a rolling lease would keep on rolling, and as such would be worth the risk, that that is now not the case.
Artists are brought in to use spaces on a ‘meanwhile’ basis to seed the viability of an area, before being displaced once the area is established, leaving the artists without space to work and being in a constant state of unease. In 2018 alone, we have seen the threat or closure of both The Brunswick Club and Hamilton House due to redevelopment and a lack of sustainability. Most artist studios are owned by private landlords and as such are at risk of being displaced for development. This means that most artists in the city are living and working with the anxiety of not knowing whether their workspace is secure and often having to move multiple times. This further disrupts the artist’s ability to learn and signals the arts as an unsustainable vocation, potentially further narrowing the diversity of our artist community.
A lack of investment
We know from a recent report by Sheffield University that Bristol is the British city with the highest density of working artists (of all kinds) after London and Brighton. However the investment from Arts Council is low compared to other core cities and competition is strong. The average income for visual artists in UK is under £10,000 (AIR, Paying Artist Survey).
Funding for grassroots visual arts is very competitive and is on a project-to-project basis, often demanding high volumes of pre-funding work by artists. This means it is hard for artists to scale up into more resilient and sustainable models.
What artists and community groups need are models to make our own income. Rather than paying a landlord and being at their whim, why not pay off a mortgage and as such create a building that is for Bristol forever.