Family Arts Festival: The Wiz + Family Disco at Watershed
Families enjoyed a screening of The Wiz followed by a disco in the Cafe/Bar

Family Arts

Posted on Tue 3 Oct 2017

Watershed develops family audiences for cultural film through cross-art form programming and collaboration.

The Watershed family programme includes film, dance, storytelling, comic book making, animation and other fun things for families. We curate free or low cost drop-in events to make it as easy as possible for families to join in. 

Studies show that participating in arts activities when we’re young enhances the chances of developing a life-long interest in the arts. Through Watershed activities families gain first hand experience; get familiar with different forms of art; learn practical skills; and gain confidence in their ability and understanding. Most importantly, families start to feel like art is for ‘people like me’. 

Previously our offer was aimed at children aged six to eleven who could come and watch a film on a Saturday, then enjoy a related workshop capped at twenty places. In 2015, we decided to experiment with programming films and activities during the school holidays to explore if there was a greater demand from audiences in these periods, and greater partnership and curation opportunities. We switched to programming for the whole family - not just children - in order to encourage intergenerational exchange. We wanted to create a space and an atmosphere in which a group of family and friends of all ages could spend time together getting creative.   

'It was so cool. I want to be a comic book writer now'. Parent, age 38 – Etherington Brothers’ Greatest Comic Book Show On Earth!, April 2017

At Watershed we curate film seasons to grow family audiences for specialised film. Well known titles and cult classics provide a hook for exploring other films - a summer season all about bugs will feature classics like Honey I Shrunk The Kids alongside independent European animations like Miniscule. We also package collections of films to create a buzz, for instance a Christmas season featuring three foreign films, all with strong female leads. Curation helps to build trust in our audiences and keep them coming back.

Spotting trends and talent is important to make sure Watershed's family programme is innovative. We work with artists from the Pervasive Media Studio to bring their exciting work combining art and technology to family audiences and co-produce zeitgeist experiences like a family disco or storytelling with drag queens. Making specific invitations to specific groups is also important for reaching out to new audiences: our Roald Dahl inspired storytelling day with accompanying British Sign Language interpretation is an example.

'Watershed is brilliant. I’ve been coming here with my son since he was 6 weeks old. We were regulars at Cinebabies screenings. Now he is 7 and Watershed is still keeping us entertained with great children’s activities. Today’s Sweetie Factory has been great. And now he is curled up on the beanbags reading The Witches – immersed in the world of Roald Dahl… Thank you Watershed'. Annie (parent) and Ruben (aged 7) – Roald Dahl on Film: Jasmine’s Sweetie Factory, August 2016

Crucially, Watershed is part of The Bristol Family Arts Network, made up of over 10 organisations in the city that work together to plan, market, deliver and evaluate a joint family offer for Bristol, inspired by the research coming out of the Arts Council's Family Arts Campaign. The network, led by Arnolfini, aims to ensure that as many children, young people and families in Bristol as possible have access to a good quality cultural and creative offer. 

We do this through the Bristol Family Arts Festival, an annual multi-venue celebration of kids’ and adults’ creativity which takes place in October. The same collaborative practice that has shaped the festival now extends to year round joint activities, with burgeoning audiences at city centre events and those co-produced with libraries in inner city areas, Hillfields and Easton.  

'The challenge is to ensure Bristol’s cultural offer fully reflects our city in all its diversity and enriches the lives of everyone, not just a privileged minority.’ Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol

Watershed's family programme has a big role to play in the future of Bristol's cultural life. We facilitate positive experiences of arts and culture at a young age by keeping programmes informal and accessible. We make sure our programmes have a wide appeal whilst celebrating the cultural diversity of Bristol and beyond. Most importantly, we create opportunities for Bristol families to feel like film, dance, storytelling, comic book making, animation and other fun things are for ‘people like me'.