Photo by Lawrence Bury, 2020.
Gary Topp joined Arnolfini in 2019 as Executive Director. He has led the team at Arnolfini through the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns and the many challenges and opportunities this created for Arnolfini and the wider sector. In the blog below he talks about his career, the importance of creative spaces and his future plans for Arnolfini.
Gary has a broad and successful career in the creative industries. He started his career as a visual arts curator in museums, which quickly developed into the management and leadership space from his late twenties. His work with organisations that blend large scale project management with high level policy gave him a unique insight into the way that the public, private and third sectors interweave and the need to understand this cultural work within a broader social and economic framework.
Gary has been Director or Chief Executive of a range of cultural organisations over the past 20 years in both the UK and Australia and has worked with governments leading cultural strategies at both regional and city level.
“Throughout all of these roles I have remained passionately committed to the visual arts and to the vital role that cultural institutions like Arnolfini play in the life of cities. And I always admired Arnolfini’s long and influential track record. I still come to work each day as a fan and advocate for the part we play in the city, region and wider cultural sector and feel very lucky that my combined skillset was the right one for Arnolfini when I joined in 2019.”
With Gary’s exciting career, it’s unsurprising he has many highlights including delivering large scale events such as the Indian international Film awards in 2007 or Birmingham Commonwealth Games handover ceremony in 2018. He’s also secured and delivered millions of pounds worth of projects and investments with many wonderful partners in a range of cities and places. However, the chance to lead and implement change at Arnolfini is a real highlight.
“I am hugely proud to have been allowed the chance to lead Arnolfini and re-establish it at the forefront of cultural venues in the UK. Since joining in early 2019 I have had many moments launching exhibitions, hosting talks and events, establishing our UWE Bristol relationship, surviving COVID lockdowns, building community partnerships and working every week with a talented and committed group of colleagues and this all feels like a career highlight.”
Gary is a huge believer in spaces like Arnolfini and believes that creative spaces make a hugely important contribution to where we live in many practical, social and emotional ways.
“We can talk about our role in the visitor economy, or in the many ways that creativity is vital for entrepreneurism across many industry sectors; or we can reflect on our role as a community space for learning or welcoming new refugees to the city; or for the way that we animate and support city centres and nightlife.
Our audiences and communities often tell us how we act as a place of joy and inspiration with the ability to use the powerful impact of art and culture to promote new ways of experiencing the world. All great towns and cities have strong cultural centres at their heart and those that don’t generally wish that they did!”
“The creative industries have proved enormously resilient in the face of many challenges over the last 25 years (since the term first came into general usage) and this is a testament to the talent and determination that characterises the hundreds of thousands of people that work in them. But if we also understand that this talent can achieve more- socially as well as economically- we need to keep creating the environment and support systems to release even more talent.
To do this we need to unlock talent wherever it is in our communities and develop pathways of education, skills development, business change and massive amounts of cultural curiosity and creative capability everywhere. Universities like UWE Bristol, and cultural venues like Arnolfini, can create amazing alliances to unleash all of this latent capability!”
UWE Bristol have a strong partnership with Arnolfini, working together under the branding of ARNOLFINI x UWE. The purpose of the “x” signifies that Arnolfini’s work is amplified by partnering with UWE Bristol, who share similar cultural, education and research agendas.
“Developing and delivering this partnership has been a key driver of my leadership at Arnolfini and it manifests itself in lots of different ways through a rolling set of projects. Each year we host the degree shows in our galleries, stage dozens of joint events and activities for public and students alike and we continue to develop research partnerships and student placements. This means that whilst Arnolfini remains an independent charity we have a strong and important relationship with UWE Bristol that brings lots of mutual benefits.”
This is a very exiting time for Arnolfini. Under Gary’s guidance, they have successful got through the pandemic and are now anticipating over 700,000 visitors this year.
“Like every organisation we try to improve each week and we will continue to focus on broadening our community impact whilst also developing our work internationally.
Our daily work with our communities matched to the international reach of our exhibitions and cultural programme is a huge amount of work for a very dedicated small team.
Arnolfini is a strong cultural brand as well as a big building in Bristol and we look forward to working with our partners to develop and extend our project portfolio in many new and interesting ways. Our relationship with UWE Bristol will, of course, be front and centre in those plans.”
Thank you to Gary for this interview. Find out what is happening at the Arnolfini.