Small Business Life

15 favourite Bristol arts organisations (and how to support them)

Cai Burton
Client Manager
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This article and all others on the Studio Cotton blog are written by humans. Please enjoy our opinions, expertise, advice, experiences, and typos.

I bloody love a Bristol based arts organisation. Before I started working at Studio Cotton, I had already worked with most of them.

Along with helping build websites here as Client Manager, I’m an artist and creative producer, working with charities and arts organisations across Bristol and beyond. And believe me, there are a lot of them. Bristol isn’t just a hub for independent businesses, it’s a creative city filled with arts organisations. Whether they’ve taken over a derelict building, holed up in an affordable office space, or have a massive HQ on the harbourside, they’re scattered across the city.

Bristol’s creative industry provides a lot of support, across sectors, and they form a massive part of this city’s infrastructure. Whether it’s arts therapy on referral, engaging with marginalised communities, or improving workspaces with some pretty pictures, arts organisations and charities have a wide reach across the city.

Which is why it’s so important to support our arts organisations. Thankfully, because they’re a creative bunch, there are so many different ways that you can help them out.

 

Image by Plaster

 

1. Empower young creatives to create social change with Rising Arts Agency

Rising Arts Agency push for radical social, political and cultural change within Bristol and beyond. They consistently critique the creative industry in order to strive for better practices within the sector. All through championing the voice of Bristol’s young artists and creatives, paying them fairly, and centring care and access. You can follow them on Instagram for young, radical, creative voices in your feed, and you can support them by donating monthly to Rising Arts Agency

 

 

Photo by Farrows Creative

 

2. Push creative technology boundaries with Watershed Arts Trust

Even though it didn’t make Lyzi’s top 12 coffee shops, Watershed is one of my favourite places to grab a coffee or catch a film. Whilst the nachos there are brilliant and worth visiting for in their own right, it’s so much more than indie films and a drink. Watershed is also a charity. Watershed Arts Trust hosts the Pervasive Media Studio, a diverse community exploring groundbreaking creative technology. They run Make Shift, a talent development programme and offered me my first major creative development opportunity in 2016. Every cinema ticket you buy helps support the work that Watershed Arts Trust do, but you can also contribute financially with a donation too.

 

3. Improve mental health and wellbeing with Creative Shift

Led by a team of creative health practitioners, Creative Shift offers opportunities for people referred to receive art on referral to improve their mental health and wellbeing. Art on referral gives the opportunity to use creativity to support health and wellbeing. Rather than talking therapy or medication being the only solution, it offers alternative pathways to build positive mental health. Ensure that the work that they do continues by signposting people to their online referral.

 

 

Photo by Ruby Turner

 

4. Provide artists with physical spaces with Bricks

Bricks is a Community Interest Company that helps create physical spaces for artists to exist in Bristol. Whether that’s through public art programmes, repurposing disused spaces, or offering studio spaces for artists at their new HQ in St Annes House. Embedding creativity within public spaces improves those spaces for everyone. Who wouldn’t want to work next to a public art installation or artist studios? By donating to Bricks, you can support artists living and working locally in our Bristol community.

 

 

Photo by Bongani Ngcobo on Unsplash

 

5. Advance gender equality in music tech at Saffron Records

Saffron Records are a music label with an intersectional approach to redressing the gender imbalance in the industry. By supporting women, non-binary and trans people they can begin to raise their representation in the music industry from a measly 5%. By supporting them you can fund their work, but you can even sponsor someone to receive their support. If you’re a woman, trans, non-binary or gender non-conforming person, and want to take advantage of the work they do, then access their membership.

 

 

Photo by Laetitia Soubrier

 

6. Support art therapy and create space at Studio Upstairs

Studio Upstairs offer studio space, art therapy and creative groups for people with mental or emotional difficulties. Expressing all those complex emotions is always tricky, and using a creative outlet can make it just that little bit easier. Rather than just offering art on referral, a studio space and opportunity to exhibit can help people to find more creative ways to express themselves. Perhaps my favourite way of supporting a charity is by buying their lush artwork or getting your own art kits.

 

 

Photo by Jack Offord

 

7. Take advantage of unique creative spaces from Artspace Lifespace

Artspace Lifespace has existed in Bristol for over 15 years and offers residencies and affordable studio space to artists. Similarly to Bricks, repurposing disused spaces for artists creates opportunities for them to live on with a new life. Rather than leaving an empty hole where M&S used to be in Bristol’s City Centre, Artspace Lifespace have filled it with creativity. If you can’t donate, then using the spaces that Artspace Lifespace manage means that they can build a case for them. So go do your shopping at Sparks Bristol.

 

8. Help artists who face disabling barriers reach their artistic potential with Art In Motion

Art In Motion (AIM) is a charity offering opportunities for people living with a disabling barrier or learning disabilities to develop their artistic skills. Through that development, AIM then share the work produced with a wide audience through exhibitions, presentations and screenings. To support the work they do, simply get in touch with them directly to  find out how

 

9. Support displaced people through creativity with Art Refuge

By using art and art therapy, Art Refuge works with people displaced due to conflict, persecution, poverty and climate emergency, to support their mental health and wellbeing. Though they work across the UK and Internationally, they have their base in Bristol. Refugees and displaced people face such a barrier to integrate into a new community and using creative ways to manage wellbeing can make it that little bit easier. You can fundraise directly for Art Refuge, but there are so many other ways to support them such as by attending their events, attending their Psychosocial Training for organisations, or simply making a donation.

 

10. Empower diverse voices with Diverse Artists Network

Diverse Artists Network exists to promote diversity within the arts and advocate for representation within the sector.

While Bristol boasts numerous creative networks, several consultations with 150 artists revealed the absence of a dedicated diversity advocacy system in the city. This realisation led to the establishment of the Diverse Artists Network.
 You can support the work they do by becoming a member, or attending or sharing their workshops and events. Their first inaugural festival Diaspora! is also set to be piloted across the early May bank holiday weekend.
Photo by Alexander Suhorucov on Pexels

 

11. Read good books published by The Good Literary Agency

Founded by Nikesh Shukla and Julia Kingsford to provide underrepresented writers with support into the publishing industry, The Good Literary Agency has established a broad range of authors from a wide range of backgrounds. We tell better stories when they come from diverse voices, and this organisation is championing every story that isn’t being told in mainstream publishing. Who knew that reading a book could change the world? By buying a book from a Good Literary Agency writer, you’re continuing to support underrepresented writers and the work they do.

 

12. Nurture curiosity and learning at We The Curious

We The Curious is a staple of any Bristolian’s childhood whether it was Explore, At-Bristol, or that building with the giant disco-ball outside. It was even where Studio Cotton Directors Aime & Alex got married! Though their doors are currently closed after a fire in 2022, they’ve still been running a programme of events across the city ready for their reopening in 2024. Bridging the gap between art, science and education, through (let’s face it) really fun interactive exhibits and events, We The Curious are worth supporting. Now, more than ever with extensive renovations. Until their doors open, you can support them by donating your cash, becoming a member, or volunteering your time.

 

13. Dance the day away with St Paul’s Carnival

Since 1968, the Carnival has been integral to the people of St Pauls, Bristol and beyond. It’s been a vibrant, open and accessible celebration of culture. St Paul’s Carnival is more than just a big street party with massive floats, Jamaican food and colourful costumes. They also work throughout the year running workshops, educational programmes and events celebrating African-Caribbean heritage and culture. To put on the festival, they need to fundraise £400,000 and you can contribute here.

 

 

Studio Cotton is proudly based in beautiful Bristol.

14. Have a great day out at one of Bristol’s Art Galleries

Many of the art galleries and museums in Bristol aren’t privately funded, and operate as charities. This is why places like Spike Island, MShed, and Bristol Museum & Art Gallery are free to attend. Often, as well as putting up lovely artwork and exhibitions for you to enjoy, they’ll run a range of workshops, events and educational programmes. You can support all of these by donating, but even easier, just visiting these places help to demonstrate that they have value. So go and enjoy some art!

 

 

Photo by Bex Glover of Six Sisters mural featuring Bex Glover, Lucas Antics, Zoe Power, Gemma Compton, Sophie Long & Ejits

15. Fill the street with art with Upfest

When I was starting out as an artist, I was so excited to be invited to paint at Upfest, Europe’s biggest street art festival. It’s been a joy to see them spread all across the streets in Southville and Bedminster, and even hosting massive outdoor paints across boards in Ashton Gate, Greville Smyth park and any other open space they can get their hands on. Upfest have struggled to raise the funds in previous years to run the festival so every penny you can donate to make Upfest 2024 happen is valuable.

 

 


 

 

It’s not just a city filled with artists, it’s a city filled with arts organisations too. It’s always exciting to see people helping others in creative and artistic ways. And there’s always a new one popping up, so this list is in no way exhaustive. Instead, this gives you a taster of all the incredible organisations working in this city. Which are your favourite arts charities based in Bristol? Share yours with me by sending me a dm on Instagram.

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