Turning twenty: The North Bristol Art Trail

As the North Bristol Art Trail prepares to enjoy another successful weekend celebrating local talent on 27 November, its founding members look back at how it all began 20 years ago…

Above (pictured left to right): North Bristol Artists’ founding members Huw Richards Evans, Cath Read, Sarah Cowper, Debby Bird, Isobel Golt Morris

This month marks the 20th anniversary of the North Bristol Art Trail. Brimming with creative talent year after year, this hugely popular free community event has been credited with launching the career of many local painters, printmakers, ceramicists and sculptors. Stretching across Cotham, Redland, St Andrews, Bishopston, Horfield and Henleaze, visitors travel from far and wide to peruse the streets of North Bristol every November. To celebrate the milestone, a few of the founding members met up to reminisce about how it all began…

In 1999, artists Cath Read and Sarah Cowper realised that they were independently holding exhibitions of their work in neighbouring houses in St Andrews over the same weekend. The following year, they decided to exhibit their work together, and invited six other artists to join them. Over the coming months, news of the local exhibition spread, and many of the trail’s first exhibitors began to meet through word of mouth, often while picking up their children in local school playgrounds.

Fast forward to 2001, the small group of artists placed an advertisement in a local magazine, Points North, inviting others to consider exhibiting their works together. Here, the first North Bristol Art Trail was born, driven by a sheer sense of community.

It’s wonderful that so many artists in our area can make a living through their art. The local community, businesses and magazines have made this possible over all these years.

At the first trail, 28 artists took part, showcasing their work in seven homes, plus a group show at Café Unlimited (previously next to Bishopston Hardware). In following years, venues enjoyed large crowds and snaking queues and people were offered horse and cart rides on the streets around St Andrews Park. By the third year, there was a huge surge in the number of local artists wishing to take part. Nowadays, the trail welcomes more than 100 artists in over 50 venues, attracting thousands of visitors every year.

Always eager to expand, a successful application to the Bristol City Council Arts Festival Fund helped develop the trail to reach a wider demographic. Artists collaborated to offer the community educational experiences. Art projects were run in Sefton Park and Bishop Road schools, and a fashion show saw children make outfits from recycled materials. The North Bristol Artists went on to hold an annual art exhibition with schools in St Andrews Park; exhibited artwork from Horfield Prison, and founded Lighting Up – now an independent charity run by artists working with people with dementia and their carers. To this day, the North Bristol Artists continue to run ongoing art exhibitions at Southmead Hospital and Westbury-on-Trym GP surgery.

Sarah Cowper now runs Coldharbour Gallery in Westbury Park and, along with galleries Fig and Room 212, exhibits an array of work created by North Bristol Artists. A section of Gloucester Road is seen as a permanent destination for local art and the North Bristol Artists’ website showcases all the artists and their wide range of creation: paintings, prints, jewellery, photography and ceramics.

“It’s wonderful that so many artists in our area can make a living through their art. The local community, businesses and magazines have made this possible over all these years,” says Room 212 owner, Sarah Thorp.

North Bristol Art Trail 2021
Lockdown last year meant that artists were only able to display work outside. This year, artists plan to open their homes and studios once again and welcome visitors to a safe and enjoyable trail. Many venues will hold a preview night on 26 November. Visitors will be able to pick up trail maps at a number of venues throughout Bristol.

The trail has always been the last weekend of November and trail supporters come whatever the weather – including blizzards and downpours. It’s a fantastic way to pick up unusual Christmas gifts or something original for your home, while chatting to artists or bumping into friends and neighbours.

North Bristol Art Trail is taking place on 27 and 28 November. See the North Bristol Artists’ website for details of the map and artist listings. Up to date information will also be offered via Facebook and Instagram; northbristolartists.org.uk.

Featured image: Blackberries in the Gorge by Jenny Urquhart