Washington Singer Building, Exeter University

Exeter University asks ‘why do the arts and culture matter?’

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Washington Singer Building, Exeter University

Why do the arts and culture matter to our society? This is the question that was discussed by a panel at an event hosted by the Exeter University on Monday, March 29. Chaired by the broadcaster Jonathan Dimbleby, the evening explored the issue of whether the arts outside London are seen as the poor relation and how universities such as Exeter can support the arts and culture in their region.

Speakers from the arts, education and museums highlighted that arts and culture is for everyone, but that class barriers still affected access, which is an area for concern.

It was universally agreed that it is desirable to support the arts as a means of promoting and enabling everyone to live in a good and civilised society. Within this, research-intensive universities have had a role contributing to culture and society within their region.

Research projects in which academics work closely with organisations to share their research knowledge and learn from the organisations they collaborate with were discussed. The panel agreed that academic research can be of vital importance to organisations of all kinds, as well as the community as a whole.

Exeter University academics are currently working on cultural projects with organisations such as Alton Towers, British Library, BT, Network Rail, HM Prison Service and Porthcurno Telegraph Museum in Cornwall.

Professor Helen Taylor, university arts and culture development fellow, explained that Exeter university demonstrates its  collaborative relationships with arts and culture organisations and individuals across the South West: “This is a creative campus in a richly creative region. As part of our international as well as local ambitions, we cherish and wish to develop further our research, teaching and outreach relationships with regional theatres, museums, councils and groups.”

The ‘any questions’ about the arts event also launched the Arts and Culture Strategy, which aims to promote the university’s outstanding contributions to arts and culture in Devon and Cornwall and enhance the cultural life of the region. It promotes international cultural relationships through highly ranked arts research and teaching practice and performance.

The university’s staff and students create partnerships and engage with the arts community through galleries, museums, theatres and literature festivals. With its arts and humanities research, and venues such as the Great Hall, Exeter Northcott, Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, Bill Douglas Centre Museum, Kay House for music, Sculpture Trail, the forthcoming Forum and proposed Environment and Sustainability Institute in Cornwall, the campuses are vibrant centres for art and culture.

Professor Taylor said: “Our art installations, such as the recently commissioned work by architectural glass artist Alexander Beleschenko, are of regional, national and international significance.

“The November 2010 Exeter Children’s Literature Festival which is the opening event for the 2012 Cultural Olympiad ‘WordQuest Devon’ will feature Michael Morpurgo, Michael Rosen and Floella Benjamin. These cultural and artistic programmes contribute to the university’s aim of consolidating its position as a Top 10 UK university and a major world player.”

The panel, chaired by Jonathan Dimbleby, consisted of Professor Geoffrey Crossick (warden of Goldsmith’s, and vice-chancellor designate, University of London), Professor Raj Isar (American University of Paris), Alan Rivett (director, Warwick Arts Centre), Professor Nick Kaye (head of the School of Arts, Languages and Literatures, University of Exeter) and Camilla Hampshire (museums manager, Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter).

(from a press release)

(Image: © Copyright Derek Harper and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.)

2 thoughts on “Exeter University asks ‘why do the arts and culture matter?’”

  1. Good to see this being debated – in my own small way I have tried to get this debate going in Plymouth.

    My Dog Ate Art’s Posterous

    What I would like to see is an ongoing discussion running up to the General Election on what our parliamentary candidates plan to try to deliver in terms of art and the creative industries.

    I have made the point that the arts community is not a homogenous group. However – those that would aspire to lead and represent their communities need to address this constituency in a direct an open manner.

    In terms of Plymouth’s parliamentary candidates I may have some news on developments soon….

  2. I attended ‘Any Questions about the Arts’ on Monday. I was a lecturer in music in the school of education on the St Luke’s Campus from 1991-1998. From 1998-2004; I worked as a lecturer for the now defunct music department, teaching mostly on a degree in jazz studies, which was based in Truro College Cornwall. During that time:

    · Arts Education undergraduate degrees in music and the visual arts were discontinued in 2000.
    · The jazz degree was scrapped in 2004 (resulting in the University of Plymouth taking over the degree at Truro college, since which it has flourished.)
    · The university music department closed in 2007

    I was wondering how the panel could be so optimistic about the future of the arts at Exeter University? The brutal truth is that university has form in cutting the arts and in destroying arts courses. They seemed to have forgotten that the distinguished musician Evelyn Glennie returned her honorary degree in disgust at the closure of the music department in 2007, an event that gave the university bad publicity nationwide. Only Drama flourishes now as a university department, with some elements of the creative and performing arts (dance, music and the visual arts) featured as part of Postgraduate Teacher Training and Continuing Professional Development in the school of education on the St Luke’s Campus. Extra curricular music (which I support) has done well since the appointment of a Director of Music, but this does not make up for the absence of a department pursuing advanced teaching and research in the subject.

    The bland platitudes from the panel on Monday seemed particularly galling to many members of the audience, when a picture of decline in arts provision at Exeter University over the past 20 years was simply staring us all in the face.

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