Meet the CEO – St Georges Bristol

Suzanne Rolt

Suzanne Rolt

BLM met with the Chief Executive of St Georges Bristol to talk about the organisation’s capital funding project and the link between business and the arts, in the city.

Can you give readers some background to St Georges?

“St Georges is a multi-purpose music venue and next year will be its 40th anniversary. It opened in 1923 and operated as a church until the 1970s, when it was changed into a music venue.

“We put on around 220 music events a year and we also have a big education and outreach programme around the city, particularly in South Bristol. In addition to this we also host lots of business events and host big conferences and meetings.”

Can you elaborate on the capital funding project – Building a Sound Future – which St Georges have launched?

“This project has been in planning for a long-time and we have gradually been undertaking a phased programme of building works. The biggest of which was in 1999 when we carried out a major refurbishment of the inside hall.

“Where we find ourselves now is that we have a big hall and auditorium but we have run out of space around the main hall, which makes it difficult for people to get to the bar and offer adequate room for our artists.

“We can’t push the walls out, so we have decided to implement a two storey extension that will go out into the middle garden and allow us to build a public café and bar.

“Upstairs we’re also looking to create a new multi-functional space that businesses, schools and individuals can use. We want to bring new people in and we want to look after them well.”

How much are you looking to raise?

“It is a £5.5 million project and we have a clear strategy to raise the money. We qualify for £2 million of funding from the Arts Council and also £750,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

“Major trusts have also pledged to support the campaign and close supporters have already donated around £40,000. This was all before we went public with our launch.

“So we just need to find the rest now and we are looking towards businesses and music lovers in the city.”

How competitive is the environment?

“We’re a medium sized business and there are many firms out there like us, with big capital ambitions, so it is a competitive environment.

“But what’s special about St Georges is that people just love this place. There is a deep affection from people for St Georges, so what we are saying is “you love it, now get behind it.”

How are attitudes between the arts and business changing?

“The status of the arts has changed and especially in Bristol. Bristol is truly on the map both nationally and internationally; and one of the reasons for this is the strength of its cultural offer.

“There is more attention on the city, which is positive for us, and it does make it more competitive; but Bristol is small enough to have this unique sense of organisations working together.

“The arts have historically been seen as a nice to have rather than a must have. So that’s tough; but you just need to rise to the challenge and convince people that it is good for the city and good for them.”

Do you have any frustrations about Bristol?

“One thing that frustrates me is that there is not a later train back to London. We are trying to encourage green thinking, but the last train back is too early, and this makes it difficult for artists to come here and get back.

“Also, it’s a national thing, but something that would make our lives easier is tax-brakes for individuals and business.”

Are you excited about the progress of Bristol Arena?

“Yes I am excited as I currently have to travel to Cardiff or Birmingham for the big arena gigs, so having a venue here in the city will be good.

“I am interested to see what it will look like and hoping it has a positive knock-on effect for the city. It poses absolutely no threat to St Georges, as we are completely different operations.”

How do you believe you are perceived by the business community?

“We are an arts organisation but we are also a business, and we run like a business. Don’t think of us differently – we are a medium sized firm, we employ people, and when times are tough we have to re-think the business model and change direction.

“We do all the things any other business has to do – the only difference is that the end product is a creative/ live experience.”

“The status of the arts has changed and especially in Bristol. Bristol is truly on the map both nationally and internationally; and one of the reasons for this is the strength of its cultural offer.”