Unity Through Art

In conversation with Tribe of Doris on the arts and diversity in Bristol.

It’s Thursday lunchtime at the Trinity Centre and I’ve arrived just in time to be served a plate full of rice and peas, calalloo and fried plantain in the main hall. I share a table together with a local musician, a festival organiser, a community worker, and several others involved in Bristol’s creative industries.

I’m at an event called Diverse Artists Network, a series of workshops run by Tribe of Doris (who have their offices in Hamilton House) with the aim of providing a space for people from a range of social, ethnic and artistic backgrounds to share ideas on how to get ahead within Bristol’s fertile but crowded artistic community.

Richie Bryan, who is Tribe of Doris’ administrator, points out that while the creative economy is absolutely central to Bristol, actually making a living as an artist can be more difficult for some, particularly “if English isn’t their first language or they’ve not lived here for a long time, or even just because of the colour of their skin.” Events like this one are part of a process of creating a support network, helping artists who may be struggling to feel less isolated.

This is just a small proportion of the work that Tribe of Doris does in using the performing arts to bring people from across Bristol’s communities together. Founded 25 years ago, the Tribe runs an annual summer school in Leicestershire, organises events and workshops throughout the year, and holds spaces at both Shambala and Sunrise Festivals.

Richie himself first got involved as a volunteer more than eight years ago, and is passionate about the centrality of the arts to people’s wellbeing and quality of life, and as a way to confront life’s challenges. But he argues that the arts can also be a vehicle for resisting attempts by politicians to sow division, fear and insecurity.

On 25 March, Tribe of Doris will be hosting the Celebrate Diversity event at the Malcolm X centre. For Richie, the event is a direct response to the anti-migrant sentiment being expressed on both sides of the Atlantic, and feels that “the current trend to victimise people of refugee status needs to be countered”.

Resisting racism and forging unity through music, art and dance has always been at the core of Tribe of Doris’ work and the event is an extension of the attempt to create stronger links between Bristol’s communities. As he puts it: “Bristol feels like a city of villages, which is part of its charm, I think, but it doesn’t feel as cohesive as it could do.”

With regard to Stokes Croft, Richie feels that there is still much to do to in the area, in particular around providing more support to the area’s street drinkers and homeless people. And while ‘community’ can sometimes be a contested and ill-defined term, Richie sees Hamilton House as an example of a successful community in microcosm:

People talk about ‘community’, but a lot of people don’t feel connected to one. And this is a community that’s very real and very vibrant. Your colleagues aren’t just your colleagues, they’re your family that you’ve built up over time.

Find out more about Tribe of Doris’ work by heading down to the Celebrate Diversity event on 25 March.

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