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Open Letter from Henry Kenyon, Chair at Bristol Music Trust

We recently announced our decision to rename Colston Hall in 2020, following a major £48.8 million transformation of the current building. This decision has given rise to much public debate.

We wish the new Hall to be a beacon of light bringing the joy of music to people from all corners of Bristol and the surrounding area. We wish to be a progressive, forward thinking and open arts organisation and the new Hall to be a place where everyone feels welcome to perform or be in the audience. The constant perceived association between the Hall and Edward Colston, and therefore the awful tragedy of slave trading, does not sit comfortably with this ambition.

On the one hand Edward Colston was a benefactor to the City and this should be acknowledged but on the other, his name is forever directly connected with the dark past of the slave ships. We want no part of that association for the future, we want to look forward not back.

We absolutely agree with the need to recognise and remember the history surrounding Edward Colston and have no wish to ‘airbrush’ the past. Quite the opposite, we intend to commission a memorial tracing the 150 year history of the Hall and Colston’s perceived part in this. We expect that the transformed building will play a much greater part than now in raising awareness and understanding about his role in shaping the Bristol that we live in today. We would ideally wish for  this to be part of a wider City initiative. Importantly, Edward Colston was never a personal benefactor of the Hall, it being built 140 years after his death and the name Colston Hall Company came about due to the location of the new venture, since it was to be sited where Colston’s boys school was previously located and on Colston Street.

We have always said since we announced our multi-million pound transformation campaign in 2014 that we would need to explore all forms of fundraising, including naming rights, in order to achieve our investment target. Two-thirds of the funding is already earmarked from Bristol City Council, the Government, Arts Council England, Heritage Lottery Fund and private donors. Now is the right time to attract one or more benefactors to ensure we reach our goal. Quite simply, if we don’t raise all of the money the building will not be redeveloped.

With the opening of what is effectively a new Hall there is an opportunity to adopt a new name to reflect our values and make everyone feel part of Bristol’s next 150 years.

Henry Kenyon
Chair, Bristol Music Trust