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To be a champ you have to believe in yourself when no one will: Q&A with Bristol based arts collective "CHAMP"

Founded in 2014, CHAMP is an open community, a mutually supportive network and an artist-run space based in Bristol. Formed of 13 artists working in a wide variety of media the group originates a strong DIY ethos. Champ’s approach to arts and creativity is one of openness and encouragement, which is demonstrated through their collective practice of skill sharing, teaching and learning.

Since its inception CHAMP has produced a large and varied selection of events and workshops. From self-initiated projects to external commissions, CHAMP has worked with many Bristol based organisations and is enthusiastic about the thriving creative culture the city has to offer.

We caught up with CHAMP to learn more about their ethos and the artistic engagements the collective are making across creative communities in Bristol.

It appears the collective ethos of CHAMP closely revolves around live arts and community engagements, can you tell us a little about current projects that CHAMP are involved with?

We’re about to hold a workshop as part of the A-N Bristol Assembly – ‘Hey SPeacher’, a speaker-making workshop – and we have just been recruited to perform for a Sun Ra all-dayer at The Cube Cinema - ‘Sunrise, Sun Ra, Sunset’. We can’t tell you too much about that though, you’ll just have to turn up and see what happens…

What drives CHAMP’s energies towards building social engagements through the arts — concerns at the core of your work?

In many ways yes this stems from some of our individual concerns within our practices. In many other ways it has been circumstantial and a product of our excitement at being offered opportunities, saying yes to everything and probably a little unwillingness to be confined in a white cube*. CHAMP has fluctuated over the last 3 years, with members coming and going. The main thing that remains a constant is the idea of what it means to be a ‘Champ’ – believing in yourself when no one else will (thanks to Sugar Ray Robinson for the accidental inspiration**). We believe art & creativity exists in every bit of our society, and like to carry out our projects in ways that can extend to different audiences.

*Individual artists within CHAMP do also create work suitable for gallery settings, but things can get a bit overexcited and chaotic when we’re together. It’s probably more that we aren’t allowed in a white cube because of the mess and noise

**Our first studio that we built together was previously a martial arts school, and had a massive Sugar Ray Robinson quote on the back wall: “To be a champ means believing in yourself when no one else will”.
That’s how we got our name!

How have CHAMP been engaging with the election?

By shouting at the telly mostly at the state of Theresa May and the lies she is spouting!!!

We wish we had more time and energy to be doing more than tiredly debating over an overpriced pint at the end of a long week of underpaid work…some of us are members of various political parties and all of us currently are taking an active interest in the situation at the moment. Although at one stage there was a divide in the group when some of us wanted to take part in a promotional event for a political party. Why are artists so scared of engaging with politics?
We’ve been working on a workshop as part of the A-N Assembly in Bristol, taking place on 8th and 9th June. This will be a ‘Speaker-making’ workshop, enabling people to air their grievances, gain confidence in their rights and opinions and create strong unifying bonds.

We also previously held a Gate-making workshop for the annual Howling Owl ‘New Year New Noise’ weekend at Arnolfini. Described as “a workshop in gate-making in a world full of walls”, the workshop was on the same weekend as Trump’s inauguration and the whole weekend had a running vein of discontent about this.

The DIY arts scene in Bristol is strong; do CHAMP work closely with other collectives in the city? If so what impact do you feel this has?

We are working more closely than ever before with other collectives, having moved into the Brunswick Club with 3 other collectives in January – BEEF (Bristol Experimental Expanded Film), Residence & Thorny. We feel that it is important to have a network, as this provides important peer support and a rich ecology of skill sharing. By banding a number of city-wide collectives together under one roof, the Brunswick Club is encouraging and creating important connections with other creative initiatives and building a network between artists in the city.

Bristol is a creative city that is supportive of the arts, whilst contributing towards this is clearly valuable, I wonder if CHAMP involved in any projects outside of Bristol?

We have made contact with projects outside the city, we’re very conscious of the ‘Bristol bubble’ and try to maintain our awareness of what’s happening outside of it. We’ve made contact with gallery spaces such as Catalyst in Belfast in the past, and more recently we’ve had the pleasure of meeting some of the team from Transmission in Glasgow to show them around Bristol. We have also been offered a residency in Edinburgh, which will be taking place in August (unofficially) during the Fringe and Arts Festival.

In Spring you guys moved location to the Brunswick Club in Bristol, has this move meant a shift in the work CHAMP are collectively producing?

We were a bit lost in our previous home on our own, and Brunswick Club has helped us to build both our collective activities and our individual artist practices. Apart from providing us with a very affordable studio space it also offers an alternative event and exhibition space in an accessible central location; this along with the great amount of practicing artists in the building means that we now have a greater and more varied public outreach.

There are 4 collectives and 40+ artists occupying this space, making it lively and sociable –something we value in our studio space. Sometimes it can be lonely as an artist, it’s an incredibly positive thing to know other people are in the same position as you are and to be able to have them at hand to share their experience, knowledge and skills. A great benefit of being here is that if you want to do something but aren’t sure how to go about it, there’ll be someone who can help you out (and vice-versa)

We are concentrating on experimenting within our individual practices at the moment, and taking collectives projects as they come in a more laid-back way that puts less pressure on the group. We are also finding ourselves involved in more collaboration with members of the other collectives.

Artist’s or projects currently on your radar?

Braulio Amado
Sun Ra Arkestra
Jesse Jones
Diaspora Pavillion
School of the Damned
Black Mountain College

CHAMP, what’s currently on your reading list?

Braulio Amado: 2016
Frederick Engels: Socialism: Utopian and Scientific
David Thompson: The People of the Sea
Nic Compton: The Shipping Forecast
Lisa Jewell: Vince & Joy

CHAMP appears to reject hierarchical pedagogies, an intention often at the core of collective practice. How do you self organize and what do you feel working in this way since 2014 has taught you?

‘Organise’ is a loose term…working in the way we were working was not really working, is what we have learnt from working this way! We have dreams of socialist utopias in which the tasks are equally distributed and swapped at regular intervals. We try hard to achieve these dreams but the reality of it is, this is a full time job for not a single one of us. We are all working hard in our day jobs to be able to support ourselves in doing what we love. It’s hard and we’re tired a lot of the time, but it’s worth it because we have the final say in what we do and how we do it.