Published on 18 October 2023
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Long-term cultural planning is vital to the vibrance and resilience of a place – Cambridge report

Bristol Ideas shares 30-years' experience and inspiration on supporting the social and economic growth of a city.

Invaluable lessons can be learned about the role of culture in fostering vibrant communities and resilient places from the city of Bristol, according to a new report published by the Bennett Institute for Public Policy in collaboration with Bristol Ideas.

The report gives insight into Bristol Idea’s distinctive approach to cultural planning and the profound impact it has had on the cultural, civic, and economic vitality of Bristol. The organisation and its projects have seen over £130 million invested in the city.

The authors, Andrew Kelly, Bristol Ideas Director, and Owen Garling, Knowledge Transfer Facilitator at the Bennett Institute for Public Policy say that lessons can be learned for both Bristol and other communities aspiring to harness culture as a catalyst for positive change.

The primary factors for success identified in the report include: the need for collaborative partnerships to drive specific projects forwards, the pivotal role of Bristol Ideas in nurturing and sustaining a network of organisations across the city, and the importance of the private sector in championing and supporting cultural initiatives.

It also explores how cultural organisations can cultivate spaces for citizens to engage in dialogue and debate to develop ideas to address critical issues like climate change and social justice.

Drawing on over 60 interviews with prominent stakeholders involved in Bristol’s arts and culture, Kelly traces the history of Bristol Ideas, sets out the organisation’s approach to cultural planning, and highlights the impact that it has had on the cultural, civic and economic life of the city.

While Bristol Ideas has successfully delivered numerous projects, the report also discusses the challenges it has faced and the resilience it has demonstrated. From initial endeavours like the Bristol Harbourside development and a bid for the city of culture in 2008, which were met with setbacks, the organisation has consistently reinvented itself while remaining true to its core mission.

The work coincides independently with the recent announcement of Bristol Ideas’ closure in April 2024. The challenges posed by the cost-of-living crisis, continuing and deepening pressures on organisational budgets, and the ongoing consequences of coronavirus have all contributed to this difficult decision.

Says: Simon Cook, chair of Bristol Ideas: “We’re immensely proud of the 30 years of work of Bristol Ideas. This major research project shows why and how Bristol Ideas was successful in contributing to the vibrancy of a city’s social, cultural and economic resilience. The report offers lessons for Bristol as well as other towns and cities seeking to embed culture as a key component of growing prosperity and resilience.  It’s clear that long-term, sustained investment in cultural planning – from a wide range of partners – pays huge dividends for people and placemaking.”

Says Garling: “The lessons captured in this report will be of interest to anyone thinking about how culture can play a role in the development of vibrant places. And whilst all organisations working in this field face similar challenges to those faced by Bristol Ideas, the organisation’s work demonstrates the important role that culture can play in creating spaces for people to discuss and debate those issues that are fundamental to places across the country.”

Report: The City is the Project. The work and impact of Bristol Ideas 1992–2023

Image: Bristol Harbour. © Visit Bristol

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the Bennett Institute for Public Policy.

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