news 13 Apr 2022

Inventing Other Ways To Go: The Bath Challenge Opening Event

The multiple crises we have faced over the past few years have shifted how we perceive, live, and act. Creativity, and the industries which support it, has a vital role to play in responding to this and navigating future challenges, but the right conditions need to be there to make these responses relevant, fair, and inclusive.

What connects Bath’s creative individuals, organisations, and businesses? How do they communicate with and have long-term impacts in Bath’s multiple communities? How do they contribute to Bath’s success? 

The Bath Challenge project began in July 2021 and set out to explore these issues, with the aim of creating a more cohesive vision for the city’s creative industries. Funded by Bristol+Bath Creative R+D, the project has evolved over time, engaging individuals in the creative industries, as well as voices representing supporting institutions, communities, and third-sector organisations. 

On the 22nd of March, The Bath Challenge Team gathered at Locksbrook Campus for a panel discussion and to present their findings so far to a collection of creatives gathered in the presentation space and online. The evening began with an introduction by Natasha Kidd, Subject Leader for Art at Bath Spa University, deputy director of the CCCI, and a member of the community group Bath Art Depot. “Art as a verb,” was an idea Natasha opened the event with, and it continued to become a recurring idea of the night, to highlight the philosophy behind this project and the launch event. The Bath Challenge is about embracing the messiness, and championing the process. Less value is placed on outcomes and more on the creating, thinking, walking, and talking that happened throughout the research.

This idea around “art as a verb” continued to arise during the panel discussion with people from various aspects of the creative industries: Alexandra Coulter (Director of Arts and Health South West), Poppy Clover (Curator and Arts Manager), Nicola Turner (Bath-based artist and director of Bath Art Depot), Kate Pullinger (Writer and Director of The CCCI). The panel was chaired by Stephen Hilton, part of the Bath Challenge research team.

It was an evening of rich discussion and positive envisioning for the future of Bath. Recurring themes were circled back to including visibility, connectivity, and disruption. The conversation was audience-led, knowledge exchange and questions were welcomed, such as audience member Scarlett Mosnier from Fringe Arts Bath, “A lot of the work we do goes unnoticed. People walk past. How do we bring together what’s already there and help nourish it?” The focus was on asking questions, exploring ideas, and embracing the process. 

The panel discussion was followed by an opportunity to explore the wonderful artworks created by the art collective MASH, developed as part of the research, and to hear from the artists, Bath Spa graduates Abi Charlesworth and Gwenallian Davenport. It was here the audience saw the ways in which The Bath Challenge Project has actively supported the next generation of artists in Bath. 

Disruption was a theme that came up throughout the night, stirring something in the room. The consensus seemed to be that Bath, thus far, hasn’t been a very brave city. Throughout the evening, guests were invited to fill out postcards answering the question “What is needed to nurture a creative community?” One participant wrote, “Bath needs to embrace risk and confidence in all the creative energy of the city.” The story that Bath tells about itself is often too focused on tourism and heritage, and the city shies away from changing that story. Perhaps we need brave and positive disruption in order to create a new narrative for the city: one of imagination and innovation. 

The community group Bath Art Depot is a great example of this envisioning of disruption, leading the next event in the evening’s proceedings dressed in pink vests with BAD slashed across their backs… Warm cider in hand, the collective wandered over to Weston Island to the Bath bus depot. A member from B&NES Council spoke, laying out Bath Art Depot’s hopeful vision for the space, to “nurture a vibrant, sustainable, and fully inclusive arts community with a focus on positive change and wellbeing.” Listening to the determination to create real, lasting, positive change in the often-overlooked areas of the city, felt like the start of something, perhaps a new evolution for the creative ecology of Bath?

A report outlining the distinct methods of the project, the findings and series of recommendations will be published later this year. Thank you to the Bath Challenge Team and everyone who attended the event, we look forward to more like this in the future.

Elisha Westmore