The grassroots collective standing up for the arts in Bristol

Nothing epitomized the status of the UK arts industry better than the now infamous ‘Rethink. Reskill. Reboot’ ad, suggesting a ballet dancer should retrain in IT, released as part of a government campaign earlier this month. Although Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has since denigrated the advert, distancing himself and Downing Street from its disastrous launch, it will undoubtedly go down in history as a representation of the effect the pandemic has had on an already struggling and underfunded industry.

In Bristol, a city whose arts and culture scene is a fundamental part of its identity, a collective of artists have come together to build a network of community, collaboration, and support amongst the grassroots visual arts sector. The Bristol Artist-Led Forum (BA-LF) had their launch event in February at the People’s Republic of Stokes Croft, and has since taken over the former Gardiner Haskins building in Old Market for an exhibition of 60+ artists spanning five floors of the old Victorian warehouse.

“I think the arts are showing their value and importance, now more than ever,” says Lisa Friedberg, one of the founders of the collective. “The pandemic is shaking and dismantling the structures of the old order of doing things, and highlighting for all of us what is really important: health and wellbeing, nature, relationships and community.”

The ‘Forevolution’ exhibition is based around the concept and practice of socially engaged art. “With this exhibition we are connecting art, activism and social change,” Lisa explains. “Each artist has a different and unique take on the theme; my work is probably a bit more on the abstract and introspective side, as I am very interested how the personal is also political, and how experience and representation of different realms of being, energy and imagination can add to the conversation and make change in the world.”

Topics explored in the exhibition range from equality and social justice, to climate and environmental issues, as well as addressing the issue of degradation and lack of support for the important role artists play in society. “We’ve also been hosting a series of talks, webinars and workshops,” says Lisa. “A new installation (from October 21st) of glowing ‘sigils’, magical symbols which hold charge and intention, was created in two interactive workshops by visitors to the space this past weekend. I asked participants to create intuitive symbols in response to two separate questions: What is a positive change they want to see in the world, and what is something negative in their life that they would personally like to let go of?”

As Bristol continues to soar in popularity as a place outside of London to settle, Old Market is clinging to its identity as a beacon of cultural innovation, all the while being swallowed up by sprawling developments of luxury flats and student accommodation. The pandemic has only accelerated this move towards full gentrification, by forcing many of Bristol’s independent businesses to close. Lisa is hopeful that the work of her and her peers will have a positive and uplifting effect on the city. “The developments in Old Market are symptomatic of so many changes in Bristol and other cities. But the Gardiner Haskins building is an amazing space, and the Centre of Gravity ethos and DIY aesthetic reflects the original and authentic beating heart of creative Bristol, and how art practice and the cultural scene flourished before commercialisation and financial pressures took over. It’s a time of great transformation and transition, and we hope the local community will engage with what we have to say.”

The exhibition is free and fully accessible. Open October 3rd-Nov 1st; Wednesdays and Thursdays 2-6pm, Fridays 2-7pm, Saturdays 12-7pm, Sundays 12-5pm

Upcoming BA-LF events:

October 21st, 7-8pm Online Event: Artists, Cooperation and Collective Action by Stephen Pritchard & Stephanie Bolt:

October 22nd, 4:30-6pm at Centre of Gravity: Alternative Approaches to Architecture – working with students & communities:

Weekend pop-up workshops: October 24th & 25th

Read more about BA-LF, and learn how to get involved, here:

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Diverse Artists Network (DAN) is part of the Forevolution exhibition and network. To learn about DAN and their upcoming events, please see their Facebook page:

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