Bristol Old Vic Ferment: Artists’ Retreat

Ferment Producer, Emma Bettridge fills us in on her countryside retreat with some of the artists from Ferment. 

IMG_20171114_151301_resized_20171114_045236031.jpgBristol Ferment, the Artist Development department of Bristol Old Vic, has existed for almost 10 years. 10 YEARS. Of developing, of supporting, of encouraging, of enabling brilliant artists to go forth and make the best work they possibly can. Gifted time and space and financial support wherever possible. Projects initiated, left to brew, picked up again, discarded, picked up again. Testing and trying and ditching and thriving. Process, that’s what we do. We support the process of making great art. Not a terribly easy one to justify really. You what? You give artists licence to try ideas out? And if they don’t work you put them to bed? But if they work you run and you push and you hold that artist, that idea, until it is a big real thing in the world? Wild.

I’m writing this from a great big house in the country. Hawkwood College actually. Up near Stroud. They provide retreat space here. And loads and loads and loads of food. Pretty much on the hour. It’s quite a place. Up in the hills, with the owls and the bats and the bears. No bears. I’m writing this from within a retreat for our five exceptional Levehulme Artists. To date, Ferment has a delightfully wide net which holds and supports a great number of excellent artists. It’s only ever little bits though. A bit of rehearsal space, a bit of cash, a bit of my time, a bit of grant reading, here, there, that sort of thing. The ambition behind securing this lovely money from Levehulme was to take those brilliant bits from the Ferment process and to do a bit more. More time, more detail, more cash money, more strategy. But also to do less. Less pressure on churning out a bit of art which didn’t have enough time/space/money attached. Less pressure on those public facing bits of an artist’s life. Less pressure on forms demanding ALL OF THE STATS to justify worth. Less part time low wage jobs squeezed around making work. This wasn’t about a production. This was about allowing an artist a year attached more formally to us, with significant financial support to take that time to recalibrate, to give validation to that artist and permission to really believe in themselves as an artist of great merit and calibre.

So they’re here, up in the hills, talking to each other and ignoring each other. Reflecting on their time with us. A good pause actually. 6 months or so in. Skill sharing and supporting and critiquing. I wanted to try and get down what this attachment has meant to them. So here goes.

In bullet points:

* Confidence to hold their own self-directed working
* Individual space which isn’t about working with others – a lot of our artists are great collaborator and devisors, so own space is rare and hugely important.
* The way this has felt like an award. The deliberate openness of the bursary has boosted confidence and given recognition.
* Horizons have been genuinely broadened. One of our artists is a spoken word artist who is working towards making more theatre. Being able to go a see lots of different type of work has inspired her to think bigger and wider.
* Feeling legitimised as an artist.
* Retaining responsibility – not taking this level of support for granted.
* The notion that we can honestly discover and not just design the output or demonstrate more value for money.
* Connecting to artists working in a very different way to each other.

We’re thrown into the education wheel at 4 years old. And we continue (if we have the means and support) on that wheel until we leave University. A whole life studying, reflecting, learning. At the end of that time, you are made, right? You are now that person. You are an ARTIST. So you go out and you get work and continue until you retire. Aged 65-85 (who knows). This scholarship has felt like a return to that educational space. A time where the onus isn’t on paying bills. This is about being in a place to think and learn and understand to a greater extent the way you make your work and what you’re trying to say.

Bristol Old Vic Ferment is the artist development department of Bristol Old Vic, find out more here

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