Your say / bernie sanders

‘Bristol is a place where ideas flourish’

By james durie, Wednesday Oct 11, 2017

Ideas have always flowed in and out of Bristol, taking on a new life here. Through our airports and harbour; through our world-class universities and businesses; and through our unique arts and cultural scene.

Bristol is a place where ideas flourish.

From Clifton Suspension Bridge and Banksy to Massive Attack and Aardman. Ideas are what we do.

We are an open-minded and intellectually curious city which values freedom of expression, nurtures thinkers and innovators and welcomes outsiders as our own.

Bristol is a vibrant, stimulating place. An open and inclusive world city, which has been broadening the horizons of Bristolians and honorary Bristolians (our visitors), and introducing them to a world, nay galaxy of ideas, for centuries.

This unique cultural heritage is what makes Bristol special. And it is our mission here at Business West to ensure our great city stays that way.

That’s why in 2005, as a founder member of the Bristol Cultural Development Partnership, we helped to establish the Bristol Festival of Ideas to provide a year-round forum for ideas to flow in, flow out and develop in our great city for a generation. ‘

As another festival season gets under way, I’d like to take the opportunity to reflect upon and celebrate what is fast becoming an institution, epitomising Bristol’s open-mindedness and passion for ideas and debate by sharing a few of my own personal experiences.

One particular highlight – a cultural moment for Bristol that will linger long in the memory –  came as recently as this year with the appearance of US senator and presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders.

We’ve had a few icons and pre-eminent thinkers visit Bristol in our time, heaven knows we’ve given birth to some too, but no one captured public attention or the political and cultural zeitgeist quite like Bernie did back in April.

Tickets sold out in less than an hour – almost unprecedented in the 12-year history of the festival.

Bernie Sanders arrives at St George’s – photo by Jon Craig

Senator Sanders’ keynote speech, which was held in St George’s Bristol, moved an entire audience to a rousing standing ovation. It was quite a spectacle and made me feel proud to have played a small part in making such a fantastic cultural moment happen at a time when the eyes of the world were on our esteemed guest.

Another thing that makes the festival so special –a reflection of the Bristol Cultural Development Partnership’s commitment to inclusivity – is the fact that so many of events are absolutely free of charge to attend.

Matt Lucas is one of the big names involves in this years Festival of Ideas

Over the course of a week in October, as part of the special bi-annual Festival of the Future City season, there are more than 40 free events including an interview with University of Bristol honorary alumni, writer, actor and comedian of Little Britain fame, Matt Lucas.

Also during that October week, Bristol Festival of Ideas is partnering with the Festival of the Future City Bath to extend the city debate beyond Bristol and into neighbouring areas.

Other autumn highlights for the Festival of Ideas includes United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education and former Prime Minister Gordon Brown taking to the stage to reflect on a life in politics at the Wills Memorial Building. This event is also free and takes place on 14 November. It forms part of the build-up to the annual Festival of Economics season.

Putting on events that bring leading lights in politics, culture and the media to Bristol and making them accessible ensures that an intellectual curiosity and a passion for ideas remains open to all.

Our commitment to enhancing the social and cultural life of the city, fostering a shared sense of belonging across our communities and inspiring the next generation is unwavering.

One final note, which is testament not only to the quality of the speakers that come to Bristol each and every year, but also to the gargantuan effort put in by festival organisers and stakeholders to ensure that such an ambitious programme of events takes place without a hitch.

I’ve lost count of the talks I’ve seen and the ideas I’ve been introduced to which continue to inspire me each and every day.

That’s why I feel privileged to see the huge organisational effort that goes into each and every season. Festival director Andrew Kelly, his team and the venues that bring the Bristol Festival of Ideas to life have a mammoth task on their hands and they do it with aplomb.

Without them and the wider community it simply would not happen.

And for this we should be grateful for playing an active role in shaping the cultural offer of our city and enriching all our lives. So, show your support for the Festival of Ideas and the Bristol Cultural Development Partnership, a body that initiates a variety of cultural and heritage projects, by getting involved.

Celebrate with us the work of great writers, commentators and thinkers in and outside the city.


James Durie is executive director of Bristol Chamber of Commerce and West of England Initiative at Business West.


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