North Bristol Arts Trail 27-28 November

Cath Read Bristol City Lights

North Bristol Artists celebrate their 20th trail this November. The North Bristol Art Trail has launched the career of many artists and is a hugely popular free community event. Some of the originators of the trail recently met to share their memories of how it all began.

In 1999, Cath Read and Sarah Cowper, who were then strangers, realised that, by coincidence, they were independently holding exhibitions of their art in neighbouring houses in St Andrews on the same weekend. The following year they decided to show together and invited 6 other artists to join them.

Many founding artists met each other by word of mouth, often while picking up their children in local school playgrounds. But in 2001 they placed an advertisement in a local community magazine, Points North, inviting other artists to consider showing together. Thus, the first North Bristol Art Trail was born, driven by a sense of community and a need for artists to join together to show their work to local residents.

28 artists took part on the first North Bristol Art Trail, showing their work in 7 homes plus a group show at Café Unlimited (used to be next to Bishopston Hardware) giving away free croissants and coffee. During a following trail people were offered horse and cart rides on the streets round St Andrews Park! Early trails had queues snaking down the street waiting to visit exhibition venues and by the 3rd year there was a huge surge in the number of local artists wishing to take part. Nowadays more than 100 artists exhibit work in over 50 venues and thousands of visitors look forward to visiting the trail.

Betty by Mary Collett

A successful application to the Bristol City Council Arts Festival Fund helped develop the trail to reach a wide demographic and artists collaborated to offer educational experiences and promote arts and artists within the community. Art projects were run in Sefton Park and Bishop Road schools, including a fashion show where children made outfits from recycled materials. The North Bristol Artists went on to hold an annual schools art exhibition in St Andrews Park. They also exhibited artwork from Horfield Prison, founded Lighting Up (now an independent Charity run by artists working with people with dementia and their carers.) and continue to run ongoing art exhibitions at Southmead Hospital and Westbury-on-Trym GP surgery.

Coldharbour Gallery in Westbury Park is now run by trail originator Sarah Cowper and shows work by many North Bristol Artists year-round, as does Fig and Room 212. This section of Gloucester Road (Glos Rd Central) is now seen as a permanent destination for local art. Meanwhile the North Bristol Artists website showcases all the artists and the wide range of artwork on offer from paintings and prints to jewellery, photography and ceramics. 

It’s wonderful that so many artists in our area can make a living through their art. The local community, businesses and magazines (thank you Bishopston Matters for your support!) have made this possible over all these years. Lockdown last year meant that artists were only able to display work outside. This year artists plan to open their homes and studios once again and welcome visitors to a safe and enjoyable trail. Many venues will hold a preview night on Friday evening or refreshments during the trail. You’ll be able to pick up trail maps at a number of venues throughout Bristol – check our website for details – or just look at the online map and artist listings. Up to date information will also be offered via Facebook and Instagram

The trail has always been the last weekend of November and trail supporters come whatever the weather – including blizzards and downpours! It’s a fantastic way to pick up unusual Christmas gifts or something original for your home, while chatting to artists or bumping into friends and neighbours. North Bristol Artists thank you for your support and look forward to seeing you November 27th – 28th!

Back to news