30 years ago today, on 7 June 1982, Britain's first media and communication centre opened its doors to the public. At a time when VHS was winning over betamax as the domestic recording technology du jour and "the web" was something spiders made, Bristol's Watershed "multi-media hub" as it was then known, was born.
Almost clairvoyant in its pursuit of digital technology as a cultural form, it is really only now, as I reflect on the past three decades in Watershed's life, that we can see the aspirations and vision of our founders truly realised: a vision in which cultural enterprise and technological innovation come powerfully together to nurture and inspire talent and build connected audiences.
Today's digital era is challenging existing business models while redefining the relationship between cultural venues and their audiences. Consumers no longer accept a passive one-way broadcast and now expect proactive two-way dialogue. So for Watershed, and core to its development, we are constantly looking for new ways to engage with younger audiences, offering them talent development opportunities as well as rich cultural experiences.
How are we doing this? I have been looking at the range of work we now do in this area ranging from cinekids screenings and workshops for 8-12-year-olds, developing the cultural producers of the future for 18 -25-year-olds, to setting up school partnerships for media literacy workshops across Bristol. We're also working with universities, local councils and schools to develop Citizen Journalism projects for teenagers reporting live from the Olympic sailing and Cultural Olympiad activities in Weymouth.
More recently we have launched FilmWorks, a pilot regionally networked talent development scheme for over 18s with partners in Sheffield and Nottingham to identify talent in the English regions. The aim is to not only develop participants' knowledge and skills of the film industry but begin to network them regionally and nationally: building the pathways for them to see beyond the local into the global.
To help us celebrate our 30th we've asked some of the UK's leading film and cultural practitioners to share with us what Watershed means to them. "The Watershed was central to my understanding of the history and possibilities of cinema," said Iain Canning, Producer, The King's Speech/Shame. "Without it I wouldn't have been inspired to produce the films that I have made, and for that I am incredibly grateful. Looking forward to another extraordinary 30 years."
I wasn't aware that Iain had any connection to Bristol until he came with fellow producer Gareth Unwin for a preview of The King's Speech (at this point no one could imagine the success it would go on to achieve) In conversation I discovered he was born in Bedminster, a solid working class part of Bristol. His family came along to support their son at the screening. A year and an Oscar later he came back, again with his family, to show his new film Shame. Later, Iain said to me that it was the cultural scene in Bristol during the mid/late '90s - which included the sound and international success of Bristol bands Portishead and Massive Attack that made him realise you could be from Bedminster and aim internationally. Iain's work is testament to that with offices in Sydney and London.
Beyond film, Watershed has stayed true to its pioneering mission to develop digital media within the arts, with the creation of Pervasive Media Studios, described by director Clare Reddington as "the best place in the world to work" because "we do all we can to encourage collaboration between different artists and digital creatives," a wide range of which will be showcased as part of the 30th birthday celebrations. Charlie Burton, now commissioning editor for GQ and formerly associate editor at Wired magazine adds that "Watershed - particularly the Pervasive Media Studio - has never failed to impress in its drive to identify future culture, and the innovative and exciting ways with which it explores that new territory."
Talent development, working with young people and enabling collaborations across different mediums is at the very heart of what we do and believe in. We're encouraging new audiences to see more culturally diverse work, with the very real possibility that those cinekids, future producers and citizen journalists could be the next Portishead or Iain Canning...
Follow the celebrations at http://www.watershed.co.uk/30
Follow Mark Cosgrove on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@msc45