Getting to Know... Arnolfini

Find out more about the five Museum of the Year finalists with our Q&As. This time Arnolfini talks about transforming no-go zones, cobblestones and celebrating in 'shipshape and Bristol fashion'.


Age: I’m 65 years old, but nowhere ready to retire yet.

Describe yourself in three words: Friendly, free-thinking, inclusive.

What’s new with you? I was recently converted so as I could house the Arts Faculty of the University of West of England, which provides inspiration for the next generation of artists.

What is your most treasured possession? I’m a custodian of one of the biggest archives of artists' books in the UK. It’s been steadily growing since the 1970s, and includes publications from many of the leading artists of the last 50 years including Robert Smithson, Ed Ruscha and Alison Knowles.

Who’s been your most famous visitor? It seems I have a knack for spotting talent; artists ranging from Richard Long to Robert Mapplethorpe, Allen Ginsberg to Shobana Jeyasingh, Paula Rego to Bobby Baker all showed work with me in the early stages of their career, 'before they were famous'. I've been visited by Damien Hirst, Gordon Brown, Paul McCartney, Bob Geldof, Stephen Merchant, George Clarke, Portishead, Paul Merton, John Cale and Turner Prize winner Mark Titchner to name a few. Some say Banksy has made an appearance but that’s between him and me!

Is there a museum/gallery pet? There’s a little dog who waits outside every morning! Ian Moody's picture of him is in the running to win the Museum of the Year Photography Competition, you can vote for it here (closes 11.59pm on 29 June).

I shouldn't leave without experiencing... My bookshop. It is consistently voted as the best independent bookshop in Bristol. But be warned: it's hard to visit without emptying your bank account!

What’s been your biggest success? Being recognised as a pioneer for the arts and leading the regeneration of Bristol’s derelict harbour side. In 1975, the area was a no-go zone and it is now one of the leading cultural quarters in Europe. I am proud to have inspired subsequent examples like the Guggenheim in Bilbao, Tate Liverpool and Baltic in Gateshead.

You have a museum crush on... The Yerba Buena Centre for the Arts in Mission, San Francisco – another like-minded, free-thinking and citizen-led institute.

You’re most happy when… the sun is shining and dozens of Bristolians gather around the harbour side to relax, visit the galleries and dangle their feet over the water. I even have a hashtag for it: #outsidefini!

What do you most like about your appearance? I am a rather grand former tea warehouse made from Doulting Stone, prominently positioned on the famous Floating Harbour. I am considered an architectural icon – no idea how that happened!

And dislike? The old cobble stones leading up my door. They make it difficult for many visitors who are less steady on their feet. I’m hoping being a Museum of Year Finalist will encourage the council to replace these for me.

This year you’re excited about... This summer I will be embracing the unstable, the volatile and the downright unpredictable – Punk. To celebrate its 40th anniversary year, my Moving Targets programme will present art, events and workshops that will help everyone channel their inner punk – as well as make some noise! But for those with quieter tastes, autumn brings Emotional Archaeology: a beautiful and ambitious solo exhibition by sculptor and Bristol resident Daphne Wright.

If you were named Museum of the Year you would… Let loose in true shipshape and Bristol fashion by rolling out the carpet, inviting the neighbours round and partying in style.

Venue details

Arnolfini 16 Narrow Quay Greater Bristol BS1 4QA 0117 917 2300

Entry details

Free to all

TueSun, 11am 6pm
Closed on Mondays, except Bank Holidays

Tags: art-fund-prizeMuseums and galleriesmuseum-of-the-year