Bristol Festival of Ideas launches autumn 2020 programme

Naomi Miller
Deputy Director | Bristol Cultural Development Partnership
16th October 2020
Member roleInitiative member

Festival of Ideas has announced its autumn programme of online events with writers, poets and thinkers, many of which explore the great challenges of our time and how we might find solutions to them. Topics in over 50 events include the future of law and democracy, the impact of COVID-19 on women, how work will change, whether the arts can survive the pandemic, the life and work of Sir Tom Stoppard and the future of freedom expression. Speakers include Helen Lewis, Mervyn King, Lionel Barber, Claudia Rankine, Gina Miller and Booker Prize nominees Diane Cook and Tsitsi Dangarembga.

Festival of Ideas is programmed by Bristol Cultural Development Partnership - a joint venture between Business West, Bristol City Council, University of Bristol and UWE. The full list of events can be found at 

Director Andrew Kelly said: “We face huge problems – the current triple crisis of climate change, the pandemic and the economy on top of crises of social care, land ownership, democracy, freedom of speech, the very nature of progress, and more. There are many good ideas that could address some of our most pressing challenges and these deserve wide coverage and public debate. And we all want to be good ancestors, to protect and make better the world for future generations, which is another issue we’re addressing”

Over 50 speakers feature in the Autumn Great Reset programme, which will run from now to the end of 2021. Richard Holloway takes us on a personal, scientific and philosophical journey to explore what we know about the universe, the stories we have told about where we come from, and those we tell to get through life (18 November); Michael Marmot proposes an agenda for government to tackle health inequalities (18 November); Hilary Cottam argues that we need a social revolution (20 November); Lord Martin Rees examines the critical issues that will define the future of humanity on Earth and beyond (21 November); Helen Lewis explores how the feminist movement has succeeded and what it should do next (21 November); Austin Channing Brown looks at Black dignity in a world made for whiteness (21 November); and poet and photographer Caleb Femi explores the trials, tribulations, dreams and joys of young Black boys in twenty-first century Peckham. (21 November).

The autumn also sees the eighth Festival of Economics (16 – 18 November). This year’s programme covers big government, how global economies recover from the pandemic, the future of farming, the arts and the economy, extreme economics and how we can build a more just and sustainable economic future. Speakers include Anne Case, Tim Harford, Mervin King and Linda Scott. David Runciman returns with his popular podcast Talking Politics. A series of

‘Ask An Economist’ sessions will give audiences the opportunity to put their questions to leading economists and academics in informal conversations.

Festival of Ideas is also marking Black History Month this October. Stella Dadzie discusses women and the culture of slave resistance (19 October); Olivette Otele traces the untold stories of African Europeans (21 October); and Kevin Maxwell talks about his experience of being a gay black man serving in the Greater Manchester and Metropolitan Police service (21 October). In November the programme continues with sessions looking at how a city can look in new ways at its past and how to make economics more representative.

A number of events explore the work of artists. Writer Hermione Lee looks at the life and work of playwright Sir Tom Stoppard, who started in theatre as the drama critic for the Bristol Evening World in the 1950s (20 October); American poet and author Claudia Rankine will be speaking with former Bristol City Poet Vanessa Kisuule (18 November) about white privilege and white supremacy in the White House; Kadie Kanneh-Mason talks to Suzanne Rolt, Director of St George’s Bristol, about what it’s like to be the matriarch of a musical family; a panel will discuss whether the arts can survive the pandemic (17 November); and filmmakers Kehinde Andrews and Eugene Nulman talk to Edson Burton about their film The Psychosis of Whiteness which explores the portrayal of black characters in mainstream cinema (9 November).

Bristol Festival of Ideas – produced by Bristol Cultural Development Partnership (BCDP) – aims to stimulate people’s minds and passions with an inspiring programme throughout the year. It started in 2005 and now runs over 150 events annually across the city, including Festival of Economics and Festival of the Future City. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the Festival is currently running an online programme of live and pre-recorded events. 

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  • About the Festival

    Bristol Festival of Ideas is an initiative of Bristol Cultural Development Partnership - a body established and funded by Arts Council England, Bristol City Council and Business West.

  • The West of England Initiative

    Provides an effective link between private and public sectors to ensure the interests of commerce are considered in key decision making.