We weren’t finished.

A version of our CEO (Emily Williams)’s final newsletter (10th July 2023)

We are closing. 

I’ve agonised over how to say this; how to possibly sum up in one newsletter the workdelivered over the last 18 years, the artists and work we have supported, the conversations that have taken place, the knowledge gathered, the changes we have made, and the brilliance of the individuals that have worked for and governed this organisation over that time. 

How we reached this decision…

For Theatre Bristol to do its work to the very best of its ability we need around £120,000 of core funing per year. This includes the employment of six part time staff members with 50% of these being practising artists, an office space, website, and a small amount of other operational costs, and then roughly £50,000 a year to deliver our responsive programme of offer including; seed funds, bursaries, resources, events and surgeries.

And so armed with the knowledge that we needed around £170,000 to fuel the momentum we’d created over the last year, we began a process of interrogating and scoping, we (the Staff Team and Board) explored multiple business models, funding routes and organisational structures, we left no stone unturned. There were various stumbling blocks along the way, but the thing we kept coming back to was that without core funding we couldn’t support artists and the wider sector if we were also fighting for our own survival. We have to be on solid ground, to be in a fit and stable position to be able to support, respond, listen and act in collaboration with and for artists and freelance creatives in order to make change. We would be doing the sector an injustice if we were to continue in a fragile state; we respect and value artists and organisations too much to do this. 

It has taken courage to get here, but making the decision now means we can close with intention. Attempting this process with care and integrity, gives us the opportunity to celebrate and protect Theatre Bristol’s legacy and have conversations with others in the sector about how we can ensure tailored, responsive artist support still has a place in Bristol and beyond.

Please do not mistake this decision for not caring enough; I am angry with the system, I am angry with the last 13 years of our political climate,  I’m angry that Theatre Bristol is seen as a “luxury” or “nice-to-have” organisation. 

Theatre Bristol’s work is often invisible, quiet and slow. Our work offers a safe and neutral space for artists to talk about discrimination or injustices without fear of rejection. We address power imbalances in the sector and fight for representation and equity. This daily, quiet work; of giving free advice, support, signposting, listening and critical conversation helps keeps individuals afloat and creates lasting change. How have we got to a point in our industry where this kind of work is not valued, understood or respected? 

And so it is with a lump in my throat that I say this is it; we will have one more newsletter at the end of August, and between then and now we will be collecting stories of how Theatre Bristol might have impacted you and your work to form part of the legacy project and archive. You can submit yours here.

I thought I’d get us started with mine:

14 years ago I had a coffee with a member of staff at Theatre Bristol. I had recently graduated and applied for a role here and not been successful, but this staff member reached out and asked if I’d like a coffee. In that meeting I was treated as an equal, like I had worth, and they encouraged me to start calling myself a producer. I left that meeting feeling like I was a part of the sector, and that meeting has influenced my entire career and my approach to others. It is hard to put into words, given that history, how it feels to be the custodian of this organisation at this time.

The landscape is changing, and some of it for the better, but to every artist, creative freelancer and person working in the arts (and I include all staff working in local authorities and funding bodies in this) – you are seen and valued and your work is vital. 

The work we all do contributes to making people’s lives better, it enables us all to see the world differently, but it’s under threat. There are so many brilliant people leaving this industry because they cannot continue to work in the conditions that we have come to treat as the norm. We have to find a better way to share resources and to create open, transparent processes between venues, organisations and independents. 

Before I sign off, I want to highlight a couple of important things: 

Firstly, as part of our legacy programme we are launching our rest bursaries again, this time with six x £750 bursaries for artists and freelance creatives living and working in Bristol. We know how hard it is for freelancers to take time off, and so these bursaries are an attempt to address the huge disparity between freelance and salaried individuals and their ability to take time away from work. 

If you would like to apply for a week’s paid rest then please fill out this form by Midnight Sunday 23rd July 2023. We will use a computer generated system to pick six applicants at random. 

And secondly, you may have more questions about our decision to close  – you can read our FAQs here. 

For the last time, 

Emily for Team TB.