Bristol Festival of Ideas

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Bristol Festival of Ideas
Arnolfini from across the harbour arp.jpg
The Arnolfini, Bristol, one of the main venues for Festival events
Genre Arts, science, culture, literature, politics, etc.
Dates Throughout year: main Festival programme each May
Location(s) Bristol, England –
Arnolfini, Watershed Media Centre, St. George's, At-Bristol, Council House, Tobacco Factory, Victoria Rooms, Wills Memorial Building, etc.
Years active 2005–present
Bristol Festival of Ideas

The Bristol Festival of Ideas is a project established in Bristol, England, which aims "to stimulate people’s minds and passions with an inspiring programme of discussion and debate".[1] It was first set up in 2005, as part of the city's ultimately unsuccessful bid to become the European Capital of Culture for 2008,[1] and continues to maintain a programme of debates and other events, including an annual festival each May.

The Festival also awards an annual book prize, worth £7,500, to a book which "presents new, important and challenging ideas, which is rigorously argued, and which is engaging and accessible".[2][3] It is one of the largest book prizes in the UK.[4]

The Festival takes place in a range of venues across the city, including the Arnolfini, the Watershed Media Centre, St. George's, At-Bristol, the Council House, the Tobacco Factory, and the Victoria Rooms. It is organised by Bristol Creative Projects (BCP – formerly the Bristol Cultural Development Partnership), Arts Council England, Bristol City Council, and GWE BusinessWest,[5] a private sector organisation promoting economic development in the area, and also works closely with universities in the area and other agencies.[1][6] The Director of the Festival is Andrew Kelly, who was appointed Director of the Bristol Cultural Development Partnership in 1993.[7][8]

Events and contributors[edit]


The first festival, held 16–21 May 2005, included speakers Paul Ormerod, A. C. Grayling, Julia Neuberger, Joanna Bourke, John N. Gray, Colin Tudge, Marek Kohn, Jack Cohen, Ian Stewart, John Carey, John Mortimer, Francis Spufford, Deyan Sudjic, Nick Hornby, Julian Baggini, Claudia Hammond, Dick King-Smith, Roger McGough, Brian Patten, David Crystal, Ben Crystal, and Pat Kane[9] Kane – formerly a musician in the band Hue and Cry – was appointed as the UK's first "thinker in residence", with a remit to be "a 'constructive heckler' – identifying broad themes that emerge from the discussions, making connections between realms of knowledge ... being a 'contrarian catalyst'".[10]


The festival, from 9–25 May, was themed around the bicentenary of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. It looked at "Brunellian themes of creativity and progress and apply[ing] these to issues of contemporary concern and opportunity." Speakers included Richard Dowden, Ekow Eshun, A. C. Grayling, Christopher Hitchens, Andrew Roberts, Lola Young, Jeremy Isaacs, Geoff Dyer, Jonathan Kaplan, Andrea Levy, Tariq Ramadan, Tariq Modood, Julia Hobsbawm, Bryan Appleyard, Joan Bakewell, Tim Harford, Lewis Wolpert, Geoff Mulgan, Philip Ball, Carmen Callil, Lesley Chamberlain, Geoff Mulgan, Chris Smith, Eric Sykes, Roy Hattersley, James Lovelock, Charles Handy, Pankaj Mishra, Paul Rusesabagina, Sebastian Junger, and Margaret Atwood[11][12]


The 2007 festival, held 9–30 May, sought to explore "questions on the arts, Englishness, happiness and affluence, Africa, big business, spirituality, crime and justice, science and peace." Speakers included Wole Soyinka, Steve Fuller, Clive Stafford Smith, Steve Bell, John Tusa, Billy Bragg, Graham Swift, Oliver James, William Dalrymple, Paddy Ashdown, Nick Cohen, Jasper Fforde, Ziauddin Sardar, David Edgerton, and Kiran Desai.[13] The Festival also ran a short autumn season of lectures, with Steven Pinker, A. C. Grayling, and Martin Bell.[14] The Festival cancelled an appearance by Nobel Prize-winning scientist James Watson after controversy about his statements on race.[15]


The 2008 spring festival, 3–29 May, aimed to address "many issues including schisms in the Christian Church, the impact of globalisation, science today... fair trade and transition to a greener society, changing America, the media and truth, and what the world would be like without human beings." Speakers included John Cornwell, Julian Baggini, Alan Sokal, Harriet Lamb, Astrid Proll, Andrew Anthony, Sheila Rowbotham, Dominic Sandbrook, Peter Tatchell, Raymond Tallis, Charles Leadbeater, George Ferguson, Jon Ronson, Jean Moorcroft Wilson, Adrian Tinniswood, Andrew Mawson, Ben Macintyre, Gerry Anderson, Susan Greenfield, Nick Davies, Simon Singh, Edzard Ernst, Patrick Cockburn, Philippe Sands, Matt Frei, Naomi Klein, Alan Weisman, Kate Mosse, Gary Marcus, and John Bolton.[16]

A series of special events were held in autumn 2008, featuring Alaa Al Aswany, Tariq Ali, Deyan Sudjic, Richard Evans, Kate Adie, Niall Ferguson, Chris Patten, Colin Blakemore, Jonathan Miller, Richard Gregory, Robert Winston, A. S. Byatt, Semir Zeki, Richard Wentworth and Paul Nurse.[17] Other speakers during the year included John Prescott, Muhammad Yunus, and Tony Benn.


The 2009 festival focused on three themes – Thirty years of Thatcherism; Darwin and Darwinism; and Arts and Science, fifty years after scientist C. P. Snow's influential lecture, The Two Cultures.[18] Events during the main Festival featured speakers Aravind Adiga, Tariq Modood, Peter Singer, James Lovelock, A. C. Grayling, Christopher Caldwell, John Gray, Richard Holmes, Paddy Ashdown, Nick Cohen, Wayne Hemingway, Susan Blackmore, Christopher Brookmyre, James Harkin, Tariq Ramadan, David Aaronovitch, Bruce Hood, Geoff Dyer, Tristram Hunt, Marcus du Sautoy, Ben Goldacre, Ruth Padel, Richard Fortey, and Gillian Beer.[19] A programme of events was also held throughout the rest of year. Speakers included Clay Shirky, Michael Shermer, Ken Robinson, Leonard Susskind, Steve Jones, Misha Glenny, Daniel Dennett, John Armstrong, Chris Anderson, Edward de Bono, Karen Armstrong, Amartya Sen, Margaret Atwood, Richard Dawkins, Sarah Dunant, John Kampfner, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Simon Schama, Tristram Stuart, Rose George, Zac Goldsmith, Gillian Tett, Neal Lawson, Michael Mansfield, Vic Reeves, Shappi Khorsandi, Alan Davies, Bruce Hood, John Micklethwait, Madeleine Bunting, David Attenborough, David Puttnam, William Waldegrave, Raj Patel, Vince Cable, Virginia Ironside, and Suzanne Moore.[20][21][22][23]

In January 2009, the Festival commissioned an artwork to depict people and products that made Bristol famous, as an updated version of a 1930 painting by Ernest Board (1877–1934),[24] Some Who Have Made Bristol Famous, displayed in the Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery.[25] The commission was won by Simon Gurr,[26] and a final list of subjects to appear in the updated version was agreed in 2010.[27] They include Wallace and Gromit; a special Festival event was held in December 2009, chaired by Christopher Frayling, to mark the 20th anniversary of the creation of the characters by Aardman Animations, based in Bristol.[28]


In 2010, special themes included paranoia, inequality, and animal rights, together with "The Bristol Phenomenon", looking at creativity in Bristol through time.[29] Speakers included Barbara Ehrenreich, Stewart Brand, Brian Eno, Albie Sachs, Rebecca Goldstein, Steven Pinker, Germaine Greer, Paul Davies, Phillip Blond, Peter Singer, Christopher Frayling, John Boorman, Will Hutton, Richard Wilkinson, Paul Collier, Norman Stone, Wendy Grossman, Simon Hoggart, Peter Hitchens, Ben Shephard, Ben Goldacre, Francis Wheen, Richard Holloway, Andrea Levy, Mike Hodges, Melvyn Bragg, Dorothy Rowe, David Eagleman, Anthony Julius, John O'Farrell, Antonia Fraser, Brooke Magnanti, Gary Younge, Christopher Hitchens, Annie Leonard, Barbara Ehrenreich, Bernhard Schlink, and Will Self.[30][31]


Programmed speakers in the first part of the year included Jimmy Wales and Evgeny Morozov.[32] The main Festival of Ideas took place 13–22 May 2011.[33]

Winners of the Bristol Festival of Ideas Book Prize[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Bristol Festival of Ideas website
  2. ^ Katie Allen, Bristol Festival of Ideas reveals Book Prize shortlist, The, 26 February 2009
  3. ^ Bristol Festival of Ideas: Book Prize
  4. ^ At-Bristol: Bristol Festival of Ideas: Book Prize Awards Ceremony, 19 May 2010
  5. ^ GWE BusinessWest home page
  6. ^ Festival of Ideas: Sponsors and Supporters
  7. ^ Bristol University: presentation of honorary degree to Andrew Kelly, 7 November 2008
  8. ^ PLA Conference 2007: biography of Andrew Kelly
  9. ^ Bristol Festival of Ideas 2005
  10. ^ Pat Kane, The Play Ethic: The UK's first 'Thinker in Residence' is..., 19 April 2005
  11. ^ BBC Bristol, Festival of Ideas focuses thoughts on Brunel
  12. ^ Bristol Festival of Ideas 2006
  13. ^ Bristol Festival of Ideas 2007
  14. ^ Bristol Festival of Ideas, Autumn 2007
  15. ^ BBC, Festival bars race row scientist, 19 October 2007
  16. ^ Bristol Festival of Ideas Spring 2008
  17. ^ Bristol Festival of Ideas, Autumn 2008
  18. ^ Bristol Evening Post, Bristol Festival of ideas is all in the mind, 4 July 2009
  19. ^ Bristol Festival of Ideas, May 2009
  20. ^ Bristol Festival of Ideas, Spring 2009
  21. ^ Bristol Festival of Ideas, Summer 2009
  22. ^ Bristol Festival of Ideas, Autumn 2009
  23. ^ Bristol NUJ: Suzanne Moore to give 2010 Benn Lecture, 13 November 2010
  24. ^ Bristol Famous: Ernest Board
  25. ^ Bristol Famous: Board’s 1930 painting
  26. ^ Bristol Festival of Ideas: Winning the commission, 14 July 2009
  27. ^ Bristol Famous: About
  28. ^ Bristol Evening Post, Bristol Festival of Ideas to mark Aardman anniversary, 7 October 2009
  29. ^ Bristol Festival of Ideas: May Festival 2010 launched!, 18 March 2010
  30. ^ Bristol Festival of Ideas, Spring 2010
  31. ^ Bristol Festival of Ideas, May 2010
  32. ^ Bristol Festival of Ideas: home page
  33. ^ Bristol Festival of Ideas: Winter/Spring 2011 events launched
  34. ^, Nick Davies awarded £10,000 prize for Flat Earth News
  35. ^ University of York: Bristol Festival of Ideas Book Prize, 21 May 2010
  36. ^

External links[edit]