It’s a slow Tuesday afternoon, about six weeks ago, and Jenny announces to the room: “I’ve just had a radical idea!” I really like sentences that start like this, so my headphones come off and ears prick up. “Why doesn’t Interval apply for the Arnolfini head of programming job?”
And so emails are sent, and information collated, a cover letter written and a CV compiled (based on CHAMP’s brilliant collective CV that some of us saw performed at TALK not talk a few weeks before – thanks x 1000000 to them for letting us use theirs as a template), and we applied for the job. All sixteen of us. Together. As a collective.
Individually, probably none of us have what the Arnolfini are looking for. We don’t have enough experience, connections, relevant project delivery, big enough budget management, etc. You get the idea. We’re a bunch of artists, many of us still early in our careers. We make mess and a mixed bag of work. Sometimes we have money, a lot of the time we don’t. We’re the kind of people who you wouldn’t let touch a big institution like the Arnolfini with a bargepole. We also happen to think we’re exactly the kind of people who should be touching Arnolfini (with bargepoles and other implements). Because we have a genuine, personal and collective drive to make things better for the arts and artists in Bristol. And between us, it turns out, we’ve actually done a lot. So we start to think… we could actually do this. We could actually be really good at this. And why not programme as a collective? We have 90 years of professional experience! Lets run the fucking Arnolfini!
Our application was a real application, but we didn’t think we would be offered the job, or even an interview. We were right about that – we never even received a response. But what our application to the Arnolfini really was was a provocation. A nudge and a challenge. A polite one, quietly radical, that came in the form of a job application. It was a question: “there are a lot of artists in this city who care about what you do. So what are you going to do?”. We don’t have an answer to this.
What we do have is a major arts institution that is well equipped, and has space in a city that despite being known for its large, vibrant community of artists and keen audiences, has a serious lack of decent, year-round programming for visual and performing arts.
And what we know is that Arnolfini is not addressing this lack. It’s an institution in a difficult state of flux, brought to its knees by poor management and lack of vision, that is now, as a consequence, being completely restructured. We wish them all the best in their restructuring, in rebuilding their programme and reasserting their place in the UK and international arts scene.
We believe that Arnolfini can deliver a brilliant programme of visual art and performance. That it can engage its local community to venture further than the toilets. That it can run education programmes and support artist development without contradicting itself or haemorrhaging money. That it can be bold and imaginative.
We believe that it needs to do these things.
And when they do, if they do, we hope they’ll invite Bristol’s artists to be involved in the process.