The Bristol Festival of Literature – 14th – 23rd October, 2011.

by Geoff Hall on September 21, 2011 with comments

From October 14th to 23rd Bristol is to hold its first Festival of Literature. Being a writer, I was excited by this and thought the City Council must have had an epiphany about developing the Creative Economy in Bristol. I eagerly got a shot of hypertext markup language and visited their site to confirm my expectations. I clicked on numerous links and tried various searches to tease out the information from their site and came up with…nothing!

This was not particularly surprising, considering Bristol for all its swagger and self-imaging as a radical city, has a very conservative, provincial mindset. As far as a distinctive policy for developing the Creative Economy, Bristol isn’t even a member of the Dance Consortium, whereas radical cities like Bradford and Milton Keynes are! Figure that one out. Bristol seems to get its radical self-image from rioting, which isn’t radical, but misplaced self-indulgence. Go figure! If you are working-class or black in Bristol you will experience a greater sense of marginalisation, this doesn’t mean the power of the place is radical, (unless radical = tense?) it informs us of a city which is diverse in its cultural makeup, but which doesn’t embrace difference too well, as diversity threatens the conservative well-being of Bristol.

Cultural Diversity – oh, what’s dance got to do with it?
I first came across the Dance Consortium in Edinburgh, where my wife and I were staying one weekend to celebrate our wedding Anniversary. We went to see the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan and the work of its marvellous choreographer Lin Hwai-min at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre. If the city where you live doesn’t have a coherent and divergent policy to develop its economy through the arts, then you miss out on spectacles such as this. Bristol should learn from Edinburgh’s example!

Sponsorship and Wellbeing?
When you look at the Bristol Festival of Literature website, there is one thing you’ll notice and that is the lack of sponsorship, even from the City Council. I hope I’m wrong, but at the time of writing the digital evidence reveals its absence.

Creative centres provide the integrated eco-system or habitat where all forms of creativity – artistic and cultural, technological and economic – can take root and thrive. Richard Florida, ‘The Rise of the Creative Class’, Published by Basic Books, 2002, p218.

If your personal economy is based on one source and if that source contracts then your whole economy is in trouble. However, if your personal economy is based on multiple complementary income streams then if one stream contracts, you still have others to rely on and potentially expand. So it is with the City.

Bristol’s Creative Economy isn’t strong enough to sustain the creative class and so they move to other centres like Manchester and London. Life as a ‘creative’ in Bristol means you eke out a living from other divergent sources, thus diffusing your creative energies and adding to the retardation of the city-wide cultural economy. (This is a common story of many artists in The Group which I facilitate, not a mere visceral complaint!)

How do we understand this thing called a Creative Economy? Here is one definition:
UNCTAD’s (the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development ) Creative Economy Report of 2008…suggests this definition of CE, it is

‘the interface between creativity, culture, economics and technology as expressed in the ability to create and circulate intellectual capital, with the potential to generate income, jobs and export earnings while at the same time promoting social inclusion, cultural diversity and human development.’ Cited in the British Council Creative Economy Unit’s Publication, ‘The Creative Economy: An Introductory Guide.’ 2010.


So, what can we expect from the Bristol Festival of Literature? Well, it starts with Lunch at HMP Ashfield with GP Taylor and ends with Tania Hershman’s Cure for Writer’s Block as if to lead on to next year. The Festival programme is diverse, covering genres such as Children’s Fiction, Crime and Thriller as well as Science-fiction.

Bible: the Most Dangerous Book in the World’ For the spiritual writer what does this mean? How would the bible be the most dangerous book in the world? Held in the hands of the Institutional Priesthood or embodied in the work of living writers? If your answer affirmed the Institutional route, then this is like Hitler proclaiming victory from his Berlin bunker. Institutionalised spirituality demands an intermediary, whereas most of us live and work outside of the edifice these days, which infers to some that we have no contact with God. Perhaps we consider that our radical socialism is validated by the bible, fitting so snugly with our political and social ideology? It’s good when God thinks the same as we do! When you think of the future do you think ‘bible’? Or does this make you ponder the past? Ancient civilisations and ‘primitive’ cultures, pre-Enlightenment societies?

The work of the writer speaks of the future, it builds expectation, it evokes the hope of redemption; not of triumphalism and the ‘Christus Rex‘ of Christendom! If we have any hope, any expectation for the future, it will be the storyteller and not the Priest who rekindles it, who envisions and embodies it for all to see, or read! My life is like a book, written on my heart!

I like the look of the session on Sunday 16th ‘Comedy and Error’, with Simon Day, about overcoming addiction. This very human connection with frailty and creativity, tinged with humour looks very tasty. As for the rest, I’ll leave you to sort it out. 

The Potential of the Festival
The Bristol Festival of Literature adds to the cultural assets of Bristol, as it focuses on the creative capital of authors and I should point out it does so with meagre resources. It is this creative capital which is the key to economic growth in Bristol. The Arts are a difficult industry to try and live from the fruits of your labours. Whilst funding for the Arts is reduced due to the pressures of financing the 2012 Olympics, no doubt a spike in our National Economy will ensue and I have no doubt whatsoever that the current incumbent of No. 10 Downing Street will try and take credit for this. However, in the long-term what is needed in Bristol is a more expansive and diverse creative economy; to stem the exodus of creative talent.

Let’s embrace the UNCTAD definition of Creative Economy, for the celebration of creative diversity can also assist in the process of social cohesion; reducing the stigmata of marginalisation, aiding human development by celebrating ‘creative capital’ whatever its source and effectively increase cultural diversity. And you thought this was just a Festival of Literature! 

Showcasing humble things like literature and dance will help our well-being, creating a place where success brings peace to the streets and homes of Bristol. We are starting the process here with literature and so I say, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall read books.’

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