Brexit, arts and Bristol: one week on

It’s a week now since we woke up to a strange new world, and the idea of ‘normal’ still seems very far away. Like many of the brilliant people who work in the arts, each of us at Theatre Bristol were strongly in favour of remaining part of the EU, and are trying hard to understand what this result means for us all. 

We’ve heard from so many artists over the past few days who are going through the same thing; who feel vulnerable, isolated and unsure. That’s why we felt it was important to say something out loud about what we’re thinking now, even thought it’s provisional and changing, as community and communication feel more important than ever.        

The past week here has involved much table-thumping, blame, despair and denial – essentially seeking loopholes and leverage to undermine the validity of 52% of last week’s votes.  Looking for ways to move back, or move on – ‘business as usual’. 

This is not who we should be.

Theatre Bristol has always tried to create a space where uncertainty and complexity are celebrated and protected. We fight for messiness, for difference, for not-knowing-ness. Being confronted with the reality that our world is not how we think it is has at times threatened to undermine this approach, as we each find ourselves leaning dangerously close to tribal thinking. When you feel wounded there is little place for ambiguity.

We live in a city that voted overwhelmingly for Remain, whose political leaders value arts and culture and were leading a now-defunct bid for European Capital of Culture. While this gives rise to a sense of solidarity and security, it also risks masking difference within the city, and can encourage the kind of isolationism that leads to the fracturing of society we are now witnessing.

The Brexit campaign and its fallout look more and more like a massive failure of empathy and imagination – on both sides. Each position contains multitudes of reasons and experiences, much easier to caricature than to really listen and try to understand.  We want to kick out, fight back. But what are we actually opposing?

While the way forward seems extremely unclear, particularly to those who are supposed to be leading us there, we are starting to determine what is important, what is fundamental, if we are not to fall further apart from each other.  

The challenge thrown down by the referendum to our certainties about the binary nature of left/right, in/out, them/us should become a useful, potent thing. An invitation to question our assumptions about the motivations and experiences of others, as brilliantly elucidated by Andrew Haydon in his blog about love as a driving force for decision-making.

Arts and culture will have a vital role to play in building our new future. We know that theatre can provide powerful, nuanced ways of asking questions rather than telling people what to think, and of really listening to how people respond. We will continue to find ways of helping artists make brilliant work, and challenge both ourselves and our friends to think harder about whose voices we are listening to and giving precedence; who currently gets to make and participate in art, and who is alienated or underserved by it. We will work with partners across Bristol and beyond to create opportunities for us all to respond as a sector and a city.  We will keep hoping.

As political, social and economic realities shift on a daily basis, how we respond will undoubtedly change, but our commitment to valuing both collectivity and subjectivity will stand firm.  To talk to us, come to our Open Office on 26 July or email .  

For practical information about what Brexit means for culture and the third sector, check out the links below- we’ll update these as more information becomes available:

Creative Europe funding (Creative Europe, 30 June 2016)

European collaboration and funding (Geoffrey Brown, a-n, 29 June 2016)

Brexit implications (NCVO, 28 June 2016) – to be updated soon

Some thoughts on Brexit and the arts: 

Arts must do more than ever to champion cohesion post-Brexit, say cultural leaders (The Stage, 29 June 2016)

What does Brexit mean for culture in UK? (David Jubb, Battersea Arts Centre, 29 June 2016)

After Brexit, art must break out of its bubble (Ben Davis, Artnet, 28 June 2016)

Europe: a Tragedy of Love and Ideology (Andrew Haydon, 27 June 2016)

Why theatre didn’t tackle Brexit (Matt Trueman, WhatsOnStage, 27 June 2016)

Home thoughts from 1935 (Stella Duffy, 26 June 2016)

The fear of freedom: the act of living (Stephen Pritchard, 26 June 2016)

Arts hit back at Brexit (Guardian, 24 June 2016)

Response to the Result of the EU Referendum (ITC, 24 June 2016)

Mel Scaffold, Co-Director, on behalf of Theatre Bristol