Artspace Lifespace, The Invisible Circus & Trinity Community Arts invest in the future of Stokes Croft

Invisible Circus Directors and Artspace Lifespace founders Wim Penhaul and Doug Francis and Trinity Community Arts CEO Emma Harvey urge other arts organisations to get behind the campaign.

The Invisible Circus, Artspace Lifespace and Trinity Community Arts have committed to buying £1000 of shares in the Stokes Croft Land Trust to support the purchase of 17-25 Jamaica St, Stokes Croft, which is home to the People’s Republic of Stokes Croft HQ. Active in Stokes Croft for 15 years, the Stokes Croft Land Trust’s first priority is to secure the future of PRSC.

In 2006 the Invisible Circus moved to town, and their first site in Bristol, the former Audi Garage complex on Cheltenham Road which had been empty for over five years and fallen into a serious state of disrepair. This multi-level car garages complex became a multi arts venue and housed a series of workshops, exhibitions and events culminating in the epic Invisible Circus site-specific promenade performance ‘The Road To Nowhere.’

Invisible Circus Director and Artspace Lifespace founder Wim Penhaul said “As time went by we became aware of this gentrification process, when we started out just wanting places to make art and bring communities together we were completely unaware of gentrification, and being a cog in a machine I guess of the way an area could change and become gentrified. The fundamental issue with gentrification is that investing money into areas is not a problem, what so often happens is the money that is invested doesn’t actually end up in the actual communities where it is”

“When I was asked to sit on the panel of the ‘Troops of Gentrification’ as part of the Futur Ville, my heart sank a little. Before we had time to realise that we were a cog in the gentrification machine as Wim mentioned, empty spaces in Bristol had started to disappear and luxury flats were going up. We never even got paid by anyone to be a cog, adding value for developers onto properties. We came in, with innocent visions of providing affordable space to create and then were moved on when this hidden agenda had been served.” said Invisible Circus Director & Artspace Founder Doug Francis. 

20 years ago Stokes Croft contained some of the most deprived, run-down parts of inner-city Bristol, but the cultural diversity of Stokes Croft has been cited in best place to live accolades Bristol has received over the past 10 years. Unsurprisingly some parts of Stokes Croft have seen gentrification and huge growth of building projects. Big, terraced homes have been subdivided as flats and the very cultural diversity that Bristol is known for is under threat. In 2018 Coexist and many artists sadly left Hamilton House due to rising rents, a quarter of a million pounds was spent on the clear up of the Bear Pit, and the  Tesco at the centre of two nights of rioting in 2011 was granted a licence to sell alcohol in 2021 and gates have been installed at The Carriageworks despite the developers ‘absolute promise’ that Westmoreland House would never become a gated-community.

“Stokes Croft is a significant artistic destination in Bristol. With the scale of redevelopment happening and in the interests of social welfare, Trinity wants to help ensure our city’s cultural spirit and radical identity is nurtured. We’re working with the PRSC team to celebrate Bristol’s history of art in protest and we want to pledge our support for the Stokes Croft Land Trust so future generations of misfits have a space to call home.” Emma Harvey, CEO, Trinity Community Arts.

Doug said “Stokes Croft is reaching a crisis point in its evolution and for me it feels a little bit symbolic of wider Bristol story. Do we want to see the renegade, revolutionary art of Bristol sanitised out as artists are pushed further afield to Weston-Super-Mare and Newport or do we as a city come together to keep independent art spaces alive?  Wim said “Stokes Croft is a case in point for the need for an urban commons in Bristol. Bristol needs independent venues like PRSC that aren’t afraid to be loud and contentious at the risk of losing their funding. We’re super happy to be able to invest in it and we urge arts organisations across Bristol and the UK to share with their networks and also commit to buying shares if they can.”