The Roadmap out of Lockdown

From March 8th some of our team who have been furloughed will be able to return to work. Restrictions requiring staff to work from home where possible will however remain in place and we urge those who can stay at home to do so. From March 29th outdoor sport and leisure facilities will be permitted, travel however still needs to be minimised. 

From April 12th indoor leisure will be possible. This will enable us to reopen our Dance Studio and Circus Training Space to individuals, household groups and education settings. We had hoped to be granted funds through the Sports England Fund to enable us to improve our safety through the installation of a ventilation system but were sadly unsuccessful. Without improved ventilation and restrictions in place we anticipate the number of individual visits could drop from almost 12000 per year to under 3000 in our Circus Training Space and from over 22000 to under 4000 in our Dance Studio. 

Pop-up shops will also be permissible from April. In 2020 we hosted Zeg’s Pop-Up shop at Arts Mansion who will be able to reopen their shop for sales in April. We hope to be able to host more independent markets in 2021. Thanks to the support of Bristol City Council in waiving our rent at Ashton Court Mansion, in 2020 we were able to continue some activities at the Arts Mansion. We are already receiving some amazing residency applications for 2021. Residencies are open to artists and collectives that would not be able to develop the work without the support of space in kind. Lockdown has fostered some amazing creativity and we have received some fantastic residencies for support in kind. Find out more about our residency programmes and what we offer by visiting Our Residencies page. 

From May 17th it is hoped that we will be able to resume exhibitions at The Island, Arts Mansion and The Vestibules with dance and circus classes at The Island resuming and some indoor events. 

Restrictions at our Venues

The World Health Organisation stated on the 2nd March 2021 that they think it is premature and unrealistic to think the pandemic will be over in 2021 – but by being smart and keeping transmission as low as possible, we can prevent the emergence of variants and get as many people as possible vaccinated. We have hope we can bring an end to the tragic deaths and hospitalisations that have occurred over the past year. The government has announced optimistic ambitions beyond June. We are eager to have our venues filled with activity but social distancing measures will still be in place. Therefore, the capacity of events will be limited until we have evidence it is safe for us to lift them.  

The Island 
Dance Studio12
Circus Studio8
The Venue50
The Vestibules8
The Arts Mansion
Ashton Court Music Room60
Large Lounge12
Small Lounge5
The Old Refectory8
The Great Hall8

A Tired Team 

It is fantastic to have the news of reopening after what has been a long, tiring winter. Many of our team members are juggling homeschool, stress due to reduced household incomes or shielding due to illnesses or just face the general stresses of lockdown. Half of our team have conditions that mean they need to shield or have other caring responsibilities and by next week these members of our team will have received their first vaccinations and while we will still be adhering to restrictions, this offers us some relief.

What about when your team is female led?  

There was a glaring lack of women in COVID-19 decision-making bodies in the UK and across the globe. It is unsurprising that the additional burden of childcare and domestic chores has fallen on women who were also expected to bear the brunt of homeschooling.

I was sad to hear that 70% of womens requests to be furloughed following school closures were turned down. Where our team asked to be furloughed, we granted their requests, asking our staff to let us know if they needed time off. I also have childcare responsibilities and speak from experience that the expectations on mothers were a lot! I was able to push through knowing that at any point, I could turn to our supportive Board of Trustees to let them know I needed help and who have always enabled me to flex my work around my family needs. 

The COVID response has let women down and the recovery needs to include female decision makers. We spoke to one leading cultural organisation about amending a job advertised, stating that the job could be worked flexibly or as a job share and are delighted that they carried out this action, recognising that just because a woman has caring responsibilities, they should not be disqualified from using their skills. On average women carried out 3 times more unpaid care and domestic work than men pre-pandemic and the pandemic exposed the fragile frameworks that support women’s employment. We welcome the news that London is backing trials of Universal Basic Income. UBI has not been shown to create disincentives to work. Instead, it could support artists, community work, recognise unpaid care and domestic work and have a profound impact on inequality and help eliminate poverty. Women are broken. To heal them, and to truly Build Back Better we need to Build Back Equal. 

The War on the Woke

We are concerned about the comments recently made by the Culture Secretary, Oliver Dowden, and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS), which risks limiting the creative and curatorial freedoms of UK arts and heritage institutions. Our cultural sector is world beating because of freedom of expression. We urge the Culture Secretary to consider carefully any move that may restrict the curatorial freedom of our cultural and heritage organisations and instead maintain an ‘at arms length’ to safeguard the long-term missions of the charitable sector from shifting Government priorities. 

It feels like Britain is at a crossroads. Understanding the fears behind the racial politics of both conservative and liberal white people can help to guide us as we create a strategy together for our changing society. A cancel culture can divide society, however, calls to action that preach intolerance, discrimination, hatred and oppression must be cancelled. The paradox of tolerance states that if a society is tolerant without limit, its ability to be tolerant is eventually seized or destroyed by the intolerant. If you are concerned about the restriction of freedoms on our cultural and heritage organisations then sign up to Strike A Light mailing list to be part of future cross-sector conversations, write to your MP in support of a ‘Keep At Arms Length’ approach to UK culture or one of the other excellent suggestions from @TrinityBristol. Alongside Trinity and Visual Arts Southwest, we are coordinating a DIY Arts response. I also welcome the news that Bristol City Council is calling for a parliamentary inquiry on slavery reparations.  

The job of cultural charities is to help make life fairer and better for us all and also to sometimes ask people to face uncomfortable truths. In 2021 we face our own challenges and our own needs for a secure space for artists in Bristol but as a white-led organisation, we also see the need for more Black-led spaces in Bristol and urge you to support Bristol African Caribbean Culture Space Ltd  (BACCS) – a non-profit enterprise focused on purchasing a new, large scale venue boat to be located in the Bristol Harbour dedicated to creating, showcasing and sharing the work of black artists and creatives. We also invite more Black and People of Colour to join our Board of Trustees

What next

A roadmap out of lockdown gives hope but we still face many challenges. 

In 2020 our plans to take on a long lease of 25+ years at The Island and refurbish the 1920s Grade II listed former police station sadly fell through due to immediate repairs and no guarantee of funding support. As a result our Landlord stepped in to carry out the work and our heavily subsidised rent has had to be raised in line with market rents. As of Feb we now pay 220% more in rent. This will necessitate a reevaluation of our self-supported business model at the Island beyond Covid, looking at funding possibilities whilst enabling us to continue the provision of affordable space for artists in the heart of the city. However despite the challenges we are determined to find a viable way forward. This month we embarked on a support programme through Power to Change Powering Up! a capacity strengthening support for community business leaders and Heritage Compass a brand-new Business Support Programme designed to grow resilience and invigorate the heritage sector across England. 

In 2021 our treasurer is stepping down and we are seeking a new Charity Treasurer to oversee the accounts and assist the other trustees with the strategic direction of Artspace Lifespace from 2021 onwards. If you have skills in accounting, business strategy and modelling to help support us as we move forward we’d love to hear from you. 

Our venue is run by a small team of self-employed staff and after 12 months of no events, we sadly have to say farewell in April to our venue managers who we retained on a part-time basis to explore options for the Venue and assist with the Halt Harassment campaign. We will review the situation again in July with a view to opening for smaller scale events but we currently forecast that due to the nature of the Venue it will be another 12 months before club nights may be able to take place again in the Venue.  

To the people we were late responding to, the meetings we turned up to late or were interrupted during, we may not have done our normal best, but we did what we could in difficult circumstances. I’m very lucky to work with such an amazing crew captained by a dedicated board of trustees. And we are hugely grateful to the Arts Council England, DCMS and Bristol City Council for their grant support enabling us to ride out the crisis. 

It is not ‘doing Britain down’ to learn from our mistakes and commit to doing better. I am proud to live in a country where the people are among the most charitable in the world, and the culture, humour and healthcare system are world beating. 

It’s great to have a roadmap, but that doesn’t mean you can’t stop occasionally to ask your neighbours where you are going and ask for help (as long as you are wearing a mask and staying 2m apart obviously!)

Together, we will get through this and be able to sing, dance and play together again. 

Go n-éirí an bóthar libh / may the road rise up to meet you. 

Kathryn Chiswell Jones 

Company Manager

To read about our 2020 response to Covid take a look at Artspace and Covid-19 published in June 2020.