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Festival of the Future City 2017

By joe melia, Friday Oct 13, 2017

Bristol Festival of Ideas’  Festival of the Future City 2017, which takes place from October 18 to October 20, brings together a staggering line up of nearly 200 writers, artists, performers, politicians, scientists, academics, journalists, filmmakers and others from all over the world. Joe Melia found out more about the 3-day event from organiser and programmer, Andrew Kelly.

What inspired the first Festival of the Future City in 2015?

We’ve always had the future of Bristol at the heart of our work and have always had an interest in cities. And that interest is both personal and professional. I’m not a beach holiday person. I prefer to spend time in other cities walking and experiencing life and culture there. In 2015 Bristol was European Green Capital and we had been asked to make an application to Arts Council England for their Exceptional Fund. Part of this was for an event at the end of 2015 which tried to bring together all strands about the future of cities – including, but not solely looking at – sustainable cities. We raised the funds; the event worked and we were keen to do it again. We decided to do it every two years to be able to reflect changing debates about cities and also have time to bring together new research, as well as raise funds and sponsorship.

There’s a huge range of writers, academics, performers, politicians and others appearing at this year’s festival, how easily did the programme come together?

It’s the result of many months – in some cases, years – of work. We normally start with the themes we want to look at; then at who is working in these areas/ writing about them; and then issue invitations. There’s then a long-term production process of putting people together, finding the right chairs, getting the material gathered, commissioning and launching a website and marketing.  It probably takes two years thinking about it.

Some of the writers appearing at the Festival of the Future City, clockwise from top left: David Olusoga, Kit de Waal, Vanessa Kisuule, Inua Ellams, George Monbiot and Salena Godden

How much focus will be on the city of Bristol in the discussions and events?

There is some direct focus on Bristol – which is important for us – but we don’t wish it to be just about Bristol. In addition, all events/ sessions are relevant to the city even if they cover general issues or look at cities elsewhere. As well as celebrating cities, the festival is about learning widely from as many as possible. This year that includes, for example, Istanbul, Homs, Mexico City, Melbourne, Beira, Lagos, Chicago, Barcelona, Johannesburg and – in the UK – Newcastle, Birmingham, Leeds, York, London.

What do you hope will come out of this year’s event?

There are many aims: to encourage a wide debate in the sessions and outside on social media; some inspiration for all; an awareness and proposals for action on some of the critical issues facing cities. We have to get cities right, especially as the world urbanises rapidly. There are many challenges: growing inequality and a slowing in social mobility; a housing crisis that means that major cities – like Bristol – may be places only for the wealthy; a fracturing on issues like the benefits of immigration; Brexit; and a growing league of a very few superstar cities that threaten to leave the rest behind. Overall, it’s about making cities work for all – though that simple statement covers many issues.

The Festival of Ideas is firmly established as one of the UK’s biggest and most prestigious book-related festivals, in the same league as Hay and Edinburgh. How much of a challenge is it to keep developing the festival?

That’s very kind of you to say that. We’re fortunate that over the past 12 years we’ve made a strong case for the festival which means that we have generally good audiences; can raise enough funds to keep it going; and have the confidence and trust of publishers and speakers that we can put on a good event. We have also expanded the festival into many different areas – including the Festival of the Future City and Festival of Economics, but also in commissioning new work, poetry, and even a piece of theatre about Frankenstein. It would be a mistake to say that it is not a challenge: public funding – and festivals will always need a certain amount to operate – is declining, at the same times as expectations are increasing; sponsorship is getting harder to obtain; and – because we are committed to putting on as many free events as possible – paying for all this gets harder and harder. We’re currently reviewing where the festival goes next. Any ideas from Bristol 24/7 readers would be welcome.

The Festival of the Future City runs from October 18 – October 20 at various venues across the city. For full details of all the events and speakers visit:

Read more: If Women Built Cities


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