Ferment 2022: Revamped support for Artists announced

15 Jun 2022

Bristol Old Vic’s Ferment programme is marking over a decade of artist development in the South West with a range of renewed and expanded opportunities to collaborate, and a much larger commitment to commissioning and co-producing work with artists and companies. 

This has been made possible in part by a new grant from the John Ellerman Foundation, enabling us to commission and support early and mid-career artists.

Ben Atterbury, Bristol Old Vic’s New Work Producer tells us why...

Ben Atterbury, Bristol Old Vic's New Work Producer. (Photo by Chelsea Cliff)

"Ferment has been instrumental in supporting the development of our region’s incredible artists for over a decade. Over the years we’ve been a part of the journey of many brilliant artists and companies, with Ferment-supported work often popping up on stages all over the country and overseas.

Throughout the pandemic we continued to work to support and communicate with freelance and independent artists, pausing our ‘business as usual’ programme to remain responsive to the ever-changing landscape. In particular we listened to the views and experiences of artists and companies through a number of conversations regionally and nationally which have led us to reflect deeply on what we do as an organisation and how we do it; how our programme can better serve the wildly talented community of artists in the South West and open doors to everyone that it possibly can.

We also asked ourselves: how do we best use the resources of a large producing theatre like Bristol Old Vic to offer deep and meaningful support to the projects and the people that need that resource?  What came back time and again in our conversations with artists was that they didn’t want to do more with less & were exhausted by the industry-wide precarity that existed long before March 2020."

"Since 2018, we've been gently road-testing an evolved model of commitment and support; greater financial investment in projects, more in-kind support, concentrating more resources in fewer projects in order to have a greater impact. 

We’d had some success; audiences for Ferment’s work were growing across the board and we were noticing the impact of that investment in the artists we were supporting. 

From March 2020 onwards we began to think about what would happen if we made a bigger and more wholesale shift to a deeper and more committed way of working. 

While working out how this might look, we continued to deliver activity where we could; The View From Here programme of commissions in June 2020, Outlier presented in our Theatre in June 2021 (and now returning in September this year), Sudden Connections (supported by the Genesis Kickstart Fund) in October/November 2021 & Connecting the Dots, delivered with partners across the city in March 2022.

Throughout, we were working behind the scenes to plot out what a much bigger shift might look like for Ferment – a shift that we are now ready to share with you."

Outlier in rehearsals, photo by Paul Blakemore

"In projects like Wild Swimming (by FullRogue) and Outlier (by Malaika Kegode, Jakabol and Jenny Davies) we have demonstrated the impact of bringing Ferment’s work into the heart of the artistic programme at Bristol Old Vic, supporting that work with more money, more skilled collaboration and longer runs. 

We are now committing to that way of working – structuring our strands of support so that we can collaborate with more artists and companies to develop their work in this way, pushing projects out of “development hell” and providing opportunities that help artists to build their creative practice for the longer term. 

Put simply, we believe that the best way to support artists and companies is to trust their ideas, guide their development, back their ambition and commit to presenting their work. 

We’re indebted to other organisations who have broken ground and tested their own models, blazing a trail in supporting new work that inspires us to go further and deeper than we have before. 

We’re enormously grateful to the John Ellerman Foundation, whose support over the next 3 years contributes to the delivery of the biggest commissions for artists and companies that we have ever awarded.

Alongside this, it’s important to say: our sector remains in a state of fragility – we are lucky to be able to make change that others simply can’t at this moment in time. 

These changes we are making are by no means the entire solution to the damage wrought to our sector by the pandemic and our support will not reach all the incredible and deserving talent that is based in or from this region. 

These changes consider but do not answer all the vital questions about how we make work and support innovation for both artists and audiences. They indicate a direction of travel and a desire to change through experiment. 

We will make mistakes and we will shift and adapt around the need of our artistic community, but we’re excited about where this might go and we hope you are too."

Wild Swimming, photo by Chelsea Cliff

Our re-energised Ferment programme is organised into three main strands of activity:

1. Development, Commissioning and Co-Producing 

We’re more than tripling our commissioning budget, and focusing resources on developing, commissioning and co-producing more projects. We commit to co-producing three or four projects with artists and companies per year and offering eight to twelve smaller development commissions. We’ll select these projects through a public process that mixes open call with curation.

We are grateful for the support of the John Ellerman Foundation, whose funding will support help us deliver this strand over the next three years.

Our 2022/23 Commissioning Round opens tomorrow (16 Jun) and will close on July 15. To find out more about this strand, click here.

2. Targeted Projects

Beyond the development and creation of new work, we will also be offering structured and bespoke support to tackle specific needs from our artistic community, from writing and producing to offstage roles and beyond. These are our ‘Targeted Projects’.

Learn more about current and past Targeted Projects here.

3.  The Ferment Forum

The Forum is a free, open, accessible network of artists, currently with over 600 members. 

Its aim is to enable communication and mutual support between artists across the South West, offering a range of free benefits, including access to Bristol Old Vic’s resources and opportunities to expand your network and develop your creative practice. 

Click here to join The Forum today. 

Associate Artists Working Group

Additionally, we’re bringing our associate artists closer to the heart of our operations with   the formation of a working group, comprised of four of our existing Associates, who will work with us for a few days each month on an ongoing and paid basis. 

These artists are participating in the development of our artistic programme, contributing to the working life of the theatre and lending valuable support and perspective in all areas of our operation, including Ferment. Our working group for 2022 are Saikat Ahamed, Edson Burton, Julia Head and Malaika Kegode; all four artists have already begun their engagement with us and we’re excited to see the impact of our collaboration with them grow across this year and beyond.

With grateful support from