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Listen: Bristol Unpacked with Watershed CEO Clare Reddington on cinema, class and council cuts

As Bristol City Council slashes spending on venues including arthouse cinema Watershed, Neil asks its boss Clare why funding the arts matters, and whether the sector’s reputation as catering mainly to the well-heeled is justified.

Listen: Bristol Unpacked with Neil Maggs

Over the past year Clare Reddington, the chief executive of Bristol’s flagship arthouse cinema Watershed, has not been shy about fighting her corner in the midst of a tough financial environment.

Back in the summer Clare, who has been at the venue for 20 years and in charge for four, sounded a warning that indie cinemas’ business model was under threat from soaring inflation and the big streaming operators gobbling their market share. This month she blasted Bristol City Council bosses for lacking a “clear cultural strategy” after they cut funding from Watershed as well as other renowned arts centres including the Old Vic theatre.

With the cash-strapped local authority struggling to keep crucial services such as social care afloat, is this simply entitled moaning from a venue – and sector – seen by some as catering mainly to well-heeled cinephiles still able to afford £6 pints alongside their culture fix? Or does that viewpoint itself represent a bad case of inverted snobbery by suggesting that only the middle classes enjoy a bit of high art?

Why does it matter that the arts get funded, even while public services are getting sliced left, right and centre? Is the picture in Bristol really bleaker than in other provincial cities? And do the market pressures facing the wider cinema industry – which have seen big operators closing their doors here recently – present an opportunity for canny independents to grow their business and expand their inclusivity?

As 2023 draws to a close, join Neil and Clare for a wide-ranging chat over these issues in the final Bristol Unpacked of the year. We’ll be returning right after the Christmas break for the rest of the season, so stay tuned.

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