Interview with Andrew Kelly, Head of Bristol’s Cultural Development Partnership

Andrew Kelly runs the Bristol Cultural Development Partnership and was kind enough to give up some time to answer a few of my questions about the BCDP‘s role in nurturing creativity in Bristol.


So, Andrew, what do you do?

I work for Bristol Cultural Development Partnership – Arts Council England, Bristol City Council and GWE Business West – and am currently responsible for cultural and heritage projects including the Bristol Festival of Ideas, BAC 100 and the Bristol Great Reading Adventure. In addition to these, I also work on longer term projects and lobbying and marketing. Most of the time I spend building partnerships, networking, lobbying and raising funds.


What is the BCDP?

BCDP is a strategic organisation that was set up in 1993 to promote long-term development in Bristol’s cultural programme and activity. Its many projects include: the formation and management in the early stages of At-Bristol; Brief & Animated Encounters Festivals; Digital Arts Development Agency (DA2); South West Arts Marketing; Brunel 200; the Bristol Great Reading Adventure, Darwin 200. Coming up is BAC 100 in 2010 which will celebrate 100 years of aerospace production in the West of England. We also worked for many years on the creation of the Harbourside Centre, but that failed. Managing both opportunity and risk – and dealing with, in some cases, failure – is a key part of this work.


What are the BCDP’s main goals?

We have had different goals in the fifteen years we have been in operation. Much of the work we did in the early years was what local government officers do now. In the early years the key priority was the work in developing the Harbourside area including the creation of At-Bristol and the (failed) Harbourside Centre. We also set up the film festivals Brief and Animated Encounters and then went on to lead Bristol’s 2008 Capital of Culture bid. Now we are about ideas – especially arts and sciences – and our projects are geared towards celebrating and developing Bristol’s position as a city of ideas. There’s been lots of work – by people like Richard Florida and organisations like the Work Foundation – on the role of creative people in cities and we seek to use and build on this.


What would you say are the BCDP’s main achievements to date?

In capital terms the development of parts of the Harbourside area (though some of the linked developments, such as the housing, is awful); the renewal of organisations like Watershed and Arnolfini; the creation of festivals and initiatives that have lasted like Brief Encounters and the Great Reading Adventure. And in recent years the Festival of Ideas, Brunel 200, our work on Darwin 200 and the plans for next year for 100 years of aviation in Bristol. But that’s not the full story: we measure our success – as much as we are able to – in, for example, getting more people reading, greater confidence by outsiders in Bristol and a better profile for the city nationally and internationally.


What role do commercial creative businesses, such as advertising, design and marketing agencies, play in BCDP’s overall strategy?

Every business has a role to play in BCDP and we like to think that we can work with all organisations, businesses and individuals in the city. The city is strong in these areas currently, though there are obvious fears with the recession, and design and marketing help sell the city as much as others. The growth of Bristol as a centre for creativity in recent years has meant that design has risen up the agenda as has media and the arts generally.


Why do you think Bristol is a great place to run a creative business?

The city is compact; networking opportunities are good and people are eager to collaborate; we have two excellent universities; there is the full range of creative pursuits available for creative people to enjoy; there is an educated and committed businesses sector eager to see the growth of creative businesses. There’s also the feel of the place – often a very difficult thing to identify – but one that makes an atmosphere conducive to creating things. The “Bristol phenomenon” is talked about now – in the sense of the place being good for science and technology – but it’s been that way for some time. It’s a subject that we plan to cover in future events.


What does the future hold for Bristol as a creative city?

I am always confident, but there is a nagging worry. It’s not just the recession – recessions end at some point, but are always damaging – but I do wonder whether we are making enough of what we have. Mixed marketing messages don’t help; Bristol is trying to continue to grow and be a green city (and this is something that we need to work out how to reconcile); and the squeeze on public sector funding and arts funding in particular will mean that growth will slow in the sectors which often feed into creative business. We also face upheaval in traditional media: the decline in newspapers (locally and nationally) is now turning into a rout and I can’t see local newspapers surviving in their current form for more than a few more years. We will need to think not just how we promote activities in the future but also how we debate such work. It’s also about democracy. I can’t see bloggers doing this to be honest. We need also to be planning now for the next twenty years: we’re about to start the project Bristol 2023 for the 650 anniversary of the city and county of Bristol which is planned as both a celebration of Bristol and a target to get the city to where we all want it to be in 14 years time.


What are BCDP’s main challenges in the next 5 years?

The key challenges are raising the funding we need to do the projects we want to do; uniting arts and sciences in new ways; building the consensus for Bristol 2023.


Can you give us some of your personal favourite examples of Bristol creativity past and present?

There are many: Cabot sailing to Newfoundland; the work of Thomas Beddoes and Humphrey Davy in Hotwells; Brunel’s work in the city; Sir George White and the formation of the Bristol Aeroplane Company and all that followed; Aardman and its work – together with the work of all animation companies; the BBC Natural History Unit; all the work that takes place in the universities; Watershed and the work that it does (alongside all other cultural organisations); the festivals and events…

Thanks for your time, Andrew—and good luck!