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A Lasting Impression: What Bristol Ideas Means to Me Vicky Washington

Written by Vicky Washington

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One of the many projects Vicky Washington worked on was the annual Great Reading Adventure. The 2006 Great Reading Adventure was Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days. This was part of Brunel200, our year-long programme celebrating the life and work of Isambard Kingdom Brunel in the bicentenary year of his birth. We wanted a book that linked to Brunel themes of travel and optimism. Our partners Aardman prepared this special image for us. We did get a complaint that the Union flag was upside down, but pointed out that this was typical of Wallace’s work. (© & TM Aardman/Wallace & Gromit Ltd. All Rights Reserved.)

Vicky Washington worked for Bristol Ideas for three years. Bristol Ideas always had a small team – during Washington’s time there were three employees and there have never been more than five – as the aim was to work with others, to support organisations and creative people in their work, and to provide funding raised to them. Washington writes here about what working for Bristol Ideas meant for her.

I first encountered Bristol Ideas back in 2006 through the Festival of Ideas, a year-round programme of discussion and debate staged in venues across the city. It was shortly after this, in 2007, that I began working with the partnership as cultural project coordinator, having been drawn to the initiative by the innovative projects it was running at that time.

There was the Great Reading Adventure, a mass reading initiative promoting literacy across the city to schools, libraries and the general public; and, in 2010, a vibrant programme of cultural activity and exhibition for BAC100, celebrating the centenary of the Bristol Aeroplane Company and 100 years of aviation in the West of England. The Festival of Ideas was also going from strength to strength, with many events reaching capacity and question and answer sessions providing a real platform for meaningful exchanges around current issues.

At this point, early on in my career, it was awe-inspiring to deliver events with luminaries such as Tony Benn, Margaret Atwood and David Attenborough, and many fond memories stand out – from chasing a taxi across Harbourside with Wayne Hemingway, to finding the perfect broom for Vic Reeves to use as a pointing stick.

In those early days, with limited resources and a core staff of just three, it is incredible to think how the partnership galvanised organisations and individuals across the city, bringing people together from all walks of life and across generations to celebrate and explore the arts, sciences, ideas, heritage and culture. Bristol Ideas has long been a cornerstone of the city’s cultural landscape, and its contribution to the creative and economic growth of the region should not be underestimated.

Having moved away from Bristol in 2010, it is remarkable how connected I still feel to the projects and people I was involved with through Bristol Ideas at that time. The partnership’s unique spirit of innovation, its dynamism and its unfaltering ambition have certainly made a lasting impression, and the creative and collaborative skills I was able to develop here have undoubtedly helped to shape my career in arts marketing for the cultural sector during the past 15 years.

Vicky Washington was cultural projects coordinator for Bristol Ideas from 2007 to 2010. She worked on many projects, including Festival of Ideas. She is currently senior marketing officer at NTU Nottingham School of Art and Design.

This essay is taken from Our Project Was the City: Bristol Ideas 1992-2024, published May 2024.

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