Bridport Arts Newsletter

BAC TO BAC : Bridport Arts Centre marks its 50th Anniversary

Last Thursday Bridport Arts Centre marked its fiftieth anniversary by re-creating the photo taken on May 18 1973 when the Wesleyan chapel on Bucky Doo Square was purchased by an exceptional community group for conversion into a longed-for theatre.

Former BAC director Chris Huxley volunteered his time to source early arts centre archive and coordinate this thankyou event, explaining; “We wanted to create a symbolic event to celebrate and honour the Arts Centre’s founders – without whom the organisation that has inspired and entertained so many of us over the course of half a century would not have come into being.”

The new May 18 2023 portrait represents those founding figures as well as some of the creative and community elements that went on to flourish at BAC, like the Bridport Prize (represented by its Programme Manager Kate Wilson) and BACstage, reflected by the inclusion of the youth theatre’s member Eddie Rose.  Contact was made with some of the direct descendants of the original line-up including Peter Chapman-Andrews (son of Peggy) and Elizabeth Sporne (daughter of Florence), as well as individuals with deep connections to the founding of the arts centre such as Sandra Brown and Miles Bell (who inspired the conversion of the chapel’s old schoolhouse into the Allsop Gallery), as well as Tristan Allsop whose father Kenneth was the first President of the organisation (the gallery was named in his honour on 14 August 1981).  Current Chairman of the BAC Board, Barry Lovejoy added: “Tristan is also a regular volunteer at BAC working on projection for the Film Society and the From Page To Screen film festival, as is Ingrid Hull – one of its longest-serving stewards – they both represent the hundreds of Bridport people who have given their time and commitment to the centre.”

Sandra Brown MBE, is the last remaining member of the original steering group that started fundraising and searching for a suitable building as early as 1968.  The four-times Mayor and BAC Chair in the 1990s eloquently recalled how she became involved in this collective mission and why the irrefusable driving force of Peggy Chapman-Andrews not only guaranteed the realisation of a dream venue but also the ongoing funds to support it; “No one could say no to Peggy!  And after the building was secured she rang me again to say she’d had another idea. She wisely knew we wouldn’t just need capital for the purchase and conversion work on the old chapel but also an income to keep it maintained and developing – what about an annual, fundraising writing competition?  Brilliant!  Now we had the Bridport Arts Centre and the Bridport Prize – which would go on to become an internationally-acclaimed literary institution.”

The BAC lobby featured a display of the centre’s 1960s and 1970s archive that has begun to be collected by the arts centre’s ‘time team’, including trustee Ines Cavill, who is already looking forward to the potential for an end-of-year exhibition with the scope to feature other decades; “it was a special part of our 50th ‘thankyou’ launch event to see how the earliest newspaper cuttings and posters sparked memories of BAC’s origins as well as reflecting so many continuities for the arts centre; bringing international talent to Bridport, sharing a writing competition with the rest of the world, programming the best national and local artists – and giving support to the next generation of creatives too.”

The display of early archive in the BAC lobby will be available to view until Sat June 10 along with the current exhibition upstairs in the Allsop Gallery: Earth | Ground.

Free entry to both, Tuesdays to Saturdays 10am till 4pm.

Founding of Bridport Arts Centre | May 18 1973

The original 1973 line-up left to right : Unknown, Doreen Barwick (committee member), Sister Kathleen (violinist with festival orchestra), Peggy Chapman-Andrews (Hon. Sec. 1973 – 83),  Harold Smith (Chairman of Bridport & District Arts Society in 1973), Mayor Percy Norfolk, Florence Sporne (Treasurer in 1973), Alban Wylde (committee member), Richard Matthews (Building Fund Manager), Dorothy Hothersall (Peggy’s mother).

Re-created Bridport Arts Centre portrait | May 18 2023 (2023 credit : Pete Millson)

The 2023 portrait left to right : Miles Bell, Kate Wilson, Sandra Brown, Peter Chapman-Andrews, BAC Board Chairman Barry Lovejoy, recently retired Mayor Ian Bark, Elizabeth Sporne, Eddie Rose, Tristan Allsop, Ingrid Hull.



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