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My Bristol: Arnolfini curator Kieran Swann

September’s ‘Cityist’ Q&A with the Australian-born arts curator

I grew up in Brisbane but I’ve spent the past few years living around the world – Melbourne, Adelaide, Portland, New York, Venice. I came to Bristol in 2018 after getting the job at Arnolfini, and I’ve loved it. Bits of it remind me of a lot of places I’ve lived (particularly Portland) but it adds up to something unique and progressive.

There’s a lot of linking people together – figuring out the conversations that tie Bristol to the rest of the world. I might be in and out of studio visits, or hosting curators, managing an event, meeting with community groups, or off to see exhibitions and performances round the country.

Our next exhibition ‘Still I Rise’ explores the state of feminism and activism – struggles through history, issues we’re still grappling with. It’s so powerful to see work from artist/activists from, say, 1980s Iran, and how it relates to work being made by artists in Bristol right now. It’s also celebratory – highlighting the triumphs of women and the ways they’ve changed the world. We’ve got brilliant NYC-based artist Keijaun Thomas, who does jaw-dropping performance about life as a trans woman of colour, and we’re also working with In Between Time to present events like Cigdem Aydemir’s The Ride – a lovely one-on-one performance that puts you on the back of a motorcycle riding across the Australian desert (by way of a little movie magic). There will also be a whole slate of events we’re co-hosting with UWE, giving a platform to the next generation of artists.

The Arnolfini building is full of nooks and crannies – weird little doors that open into spaces you have to crawl to access, a labyrinth of a basement, a secret open-air rooftop mezzanine. Most I haven’t been allowed to go into yet – probably wise because I’d just try and get art into them.

Artists are hugely important in that they spend their time imagining new worlds. Arts centres like Arnolfini create the space for them to do that, and bringing them together with communities to turn those imagined worlds into reality is a big privilege and responsibility. I want to bring in amazing contemporary art and performance; host new conversations about things that are important in Bristolians’ daily lives.

I’m a fan of the homegrown, independent arts scene in Bristol – it’s vibrant and active on a limited resource. Jo Bannon is a great performance maker, and we’re working with MAYK to present her latest work. The Brunswick Club collective constantly put on brilliant events (despite recently being forced out of their home). Black Artists On The Move recently presented the UK’s first festival of black women’s theatre – amazing, right? Thorny host great DJs and events for the city’s queer community and Action Hero are taking their work around the world. The city is such a hub for art and ideas and they really deserve more support.

I love the city’s great green spaces; and a good Somerset cider (I live round the corner from the Star and Garter and Bristol Beer Factory run a few good spots). I’m trying hard to cultivate tomatoes in my little Montpelier backyard and through the summer that’s been a great place to end the day with my housemate’s excellent cooking.

Bristol’s had a host of fantastic progressive politicians – its legacy with the Green Capital Partnership, as a sanctuary city, the commitment to the real living wage. There’s more to be done, however, with Bristol’s commitment to affordable housing.

I’m looking forward to Strange Brew opening; it’s a late-night venue set up by the crew behind Dirtytalk via a crowdfunder that shows how supportive Bristol is of new ideas. I also love Bristol Old Vic and the Cube Cinema for film by new artists/film-makers, and rarely shown older work.