A new consortium partnership, the West of England Visual Arts Alliance – of which the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) is a part – was 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, which forms part of UWE Bristol’s City campus, 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 and North Somerset Council. Its collective vision is for the visual arts community in Bristol and the West of England to be more progressive, sustainable and inclusive by 2024.
Lynn Barlow, who is Assistant Vice-Chancellor for Creative and Cultural Industries Engagement at UWE Bristol, said: “This is a really exciting development for the visual arts community in the region. Working with Spike Island and partners in the West, we will be able to create hundreds of opportunities for artists taking their first steps into creative careers and build a much-needed network of support.”
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. These are to include (among others) 2,760 opportunities for at least 500 artists, three artist development programmes led by Spike Island, Visual Arts South West and The Brunswick Club, as well as online and place-based mentoring, resources and interdisciplinary skills workshops.
More than 15 Research South West-based artists, curators and independent art workers each year will also be able to access development bursaries of between £500–£1,000. Research and development fellowships of £10, 000 are also to be awarded to three South West-based artists, artist-led groups or other independent art workers each year.
New positive action policies will also be brought in for subsidised studio provision and artist development opportunities, designed to remove barriers to access for underrepresented groups. Finally, new fellowship and mentoring opportunities for artists, curators and young people are to be developed with Creative Youth Network.
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.