Since doors opened at 6pm on 29 October, Sanctum has welcomed over 26,000 visitors to step inside the ruin of Temple Church in Bristol – more visitors than in the 75 years since its bombing on 24th November 1940. At 6pm on Saturday 21st November, the continuous programme of sound which has been sustained over 552 hours will come to an end with Sanctum’s very own ‘supergroup’ – including rock musicians, wind instruments and soul singers.


Sanctum is the first public artwork in the UK by Chicago-based artist Theaster Gates, and aimed to “amplify the city” of Bristol. Over 1,000 performers, musicians and speakers have participated in sustaining the 24hr programme in the bombed-out shell of Temple Church in Bristol. Hosting singer-songwriters and musicians, beat poets and flash fiction, heavy metal and electronic soundscapes, community choirs and punk bands, theatre-makers and writers, Sanctum has offered a very special place for listening to the eclectic voices of residents and those passing through the city who contribute to Bristol’s dynamic culture.


#sanctumbristol is like a gentle voice inviting open hearted listening. Much more than an open mic” – @edsonburton


Every day, hundreds of visitors have queued in anticipation of hearing something unexpected. Office workers have spent lunch breaks in Sanctum; children and their carers have joined afternoon jams and raves; teenagers have dropped in after school in the hope of catching a headlining act and clubbers have arrived in the early hours of the morning. People have travelled from across Bristol and from as far as Hong Kong, New York and Chicago. Many locals have made multiple trips, some visiting every day and never knowing what they might encounter: the schedule has remained a secret over the 552 hours of performance.


As Sanctum enters into its final hours, Theaster Gates reflects on the work:

“Art only works when people believe in it. I’ve been involved in something in Bristol, which may have changed my life. We’ve been able to do something much more fulfilling, much larger than our individual efforts over the 552 hours.”


Produced by international arts producers Situations, in partnership with English Heritage and MAYK, Sanctum is commissioned as part of the cultural programme for Bristol 2015 European Green Capital supported by Arts Council England.


“It kept drawing us back. There was the call to prayer one morning and the woman handed over to an acoustic act just as the sun started to come up. A seamless transition. Each time I haven’t failed to feel uplifted. I always come away feeling my spirits are lifted.” – Visitor

“Like being in a village community. I never thought you could create a village hall in a city!” – Visitor

Claire Doherty, Director of Situations says:

“On arriving in Bristol, Theaster asked what was missing in this city. Perhaps Sanctum has answered that – a place to listen, to be surprised, an intimate place in contrast to the mass collective experience of ticketed events. If Sanctum has done anything it is to show that extraordinary things are possible when we use what we have, we just need ambition, curiosity and a sprinkling of magic to make it happen.”


Alex Page, Director of the West at English Heritage says:

“As a new charity, English Heritage seeks to bring the places in our care to life in new and imaginative ways. Sanctum has done exactly this, bringing fresh life to Temple Church. The church survived bombing in the blitz and now, 75 years on, Theaster Gates’ ambitious and creative project has seen thousands of people enjoying this unique and beautiful place once more. We are now looking at ways to improve access to the church, ensuring it can be enjoyed for years to come.”


Kate Yedigaroff and Matthew Austin, Directors of MAYK, say:

“Over the course of the last 24 days, Sanctum has proved itself to be a rare and special space. New communities have emerged as the hours unfolded – some fleeting, some longer-lasting – from musicians and performers making new connections to audiences discovering wild and beautiful new sounds. And that’s all down to the simplicity and power of Theaster’s concept, and the talent and dedication of the hundreds of performers keeping that sound alive over 552 unforgettable hours.”


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