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Here + There: The International Future of Bristol Ideas

Here + There

Written by Andrew Kelly

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Bristol Ideas reflects on its 2022 collaboration with Aké Arts and Book Festival in Lagos and Toronto International Festival of Authors in Canada, which brought together artists and poets to celebrate the centenary of TS Eliot's The Waste Land

Here + There provided a great opportunity, and we grasped it fully. Not only did it provide a focus for work in 2022, but it laid foundations for the next five years at least.

Since 1995, we have run over 2000 events, published 10 books, organised specialist regular festivals on economics and the future of cities, and created and managed a festival devoted to city films.

I’ve always wanted to create an international ideas festival, something which is long-term and deep, built on partnerships which would last.

A key part of our work has been looking for solutions to the challenges we face. These challenges are international in scale and the ideas for the solutions we need will come from many places.

We worked with Aké Arts and Book Festival in Lagos and Toronto International Festival of Authors. Much of the 2022 work was research and development. Here + There facilitated an excellent learning experience about what we share and where we differ, and how we change as a result – from management and governance to the opportunities ahead and the threats we face. Most discussions were hosted on Zoom, which has advantages and disadvantages, but we were able also to visit Toronto and Lagos and work with our partners face-to-face.

Much of the work was R&D – which will pay many dividends in the years to come – but we wanted to show also the potential of working together. 2022 was the centenary of TS Eliot’s great poem The Waste Land and we used this in our work as the parallels of the poem – it came out of war and crisis and a pandemic – are depressingly similar to today. We haven’t lived through a world war, but the invasion of Ukraine means that war had returned to Europe and reminded us of the need for vigilance about and opposition to fascism (another worrying parallel to the 1920s).

We challenged 12 poets – four from Canada, four from Nigeria and four from the UK – to write poetry responding to The Waste Land. All 12 poems were published online, in a special zine – itself the product of a relationship with the designer Grace Kress (we were both on a linked programme on Amplified Publishing) – in print in Aké Review, and presented live and digitally in our three cities. Events have been held in our three cities. And we each ran events on linked themes of climate change, protest, and defending and extending democracy. In our 2022 Bristol Mayor’s State of the City address we had a panel with Mayor Rees and the mayor of Kaduna in Nigeria live on stage and the Head of the Canadian Arts Council by Zoom – all three debating the future of cities.

Like us, our two partners were coming out of the pandemic and running their first live events for two years. The ability of our societies to meet the challenge of recovering from pandemic and being better prepared for the next was one of the challenges we wanted to address. There are others: the decline of democracy; adapting to climate change; building an inclusive society; managing ageing societies; growing inequality; struggling welfare states. The list is long and gets longer.

This was always going to be a long-term, multi-year project. Our discussions looked at programmes to 2027. Some of these plans involve Toronto and Lagos – we’re working on projects on James Baldwin, robotics, and the future of welfare states – others will work with new international partners. Our 2023 Festival of the Future City will work on Syria, Ukraine, and Berlin; one project on the 15-minute city for 2005 will bring together Bristol, London, Stockholm, and Rome. Whoever we collaborate with it will be in the same spirit as Here + There engendered and supported.

We haven’t found all the solutions to the great challenges we face, but the Here + There journey means that we now have the first international partnerships in place to have started this search well and to continue together in the years to come. This is the work of decades but the start we have made provides confidence that we are moving forward.

Finally, a personal thank you to all involved – and especially all those who provided the grant and worked with us in managing this; those who provided advice on future business opportunities; and our partner grant holders for enabling us to learn from their work as it made progress. In what has been a bleak period with the pandemic and the very slow recovery, having forward-looking projects like this means that, from the gloom, hope and optimism could surface.

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