From the Royal West of England Academy (RWA), Spike Island and Arnolfini to numerous smaller galleries, Bristol has a thriving art scene. A major feature is the element of surprise: Banksy’s unannounced exhibition at the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery made world headlines, and temporary galleries have a habit of springing up overnight in disused shop spaces, thanks to an initiative by Bristol City Council.
When it comes to graffiti and street art, Banksy is merely the famous tip of a Bristol iceberg. Neighbourhoods like Stokes Croft and Bedminster are alive with giant murals and spraycanned frescoes, and the annual Urban Paint Festival (Upfest) draws ever greater numbers of artists.
Bristol’s live music venues host every genre of music imaginable. Colston Hall has everything from symphony orchestras to solo singer-songwriters; the Fleece, the Thekla and the O2 Academy specialise in indie and alt rock acts; the Folk House and St Bonaventure focus on traditional folk and roots music; and St George’s offers an eclectic mix of classical, jazz, pop, folk, world music and everything in between.
Bristol is a major centre of media production, so naturally it has a large screen or two. The city is well served by several multiplexes, plus a few smaller first-run cinemas like the Orpheus. The Watershed began as a place to see arthouse films, and has now evolved into a cultural and media venue; Arnolfini, just across the river, regularly screens foreign and independent films; and the Cube in Kingsdown presents obscure, not-so-obscure, and cult movies.
The Bristol Old Vic is the oldest and best-known of the local theatres, but it has some serious competition in the form of the Tobacco Factory, which has mounted a series of critically acclaimed Shakespeare productions and brings high-quality, independent touring companies to Bristol with new and often unusual shows. Open-air productions have become a feature of the summers – plenty of Shakespeare, but also street theatre and productions drawing on local history.
Bristol has several major museums, from traditional Victorian (Bristol Museum and Art Gallery) to 21st-century interactive (M Shed, the At-Bristol science centre, and the award-winning SS Great Britain). On a smaller scale are Blaise Castle House Museum, the Red Lodge, and the Georgian House – three historic houses where the past comes to life.