Tell us a little about your role
My role is to develop and take forward an action plan for the University’s Arts and Culture strategy.
The idea of arts and culture being an integral part of the ‘campus life’ experience here at the University has seeded many other exciting developments. Our arts venues are all Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisations (NPOs), meaning they’re recognised and supported nationally as leading UK arts organisations.
As well as these venues, I frequently liaise with Union Southampton, which has an extraordinary amount of performing arts and creative industry societies. Currently, I’m working closely with Winchester School of Art (WSA) to further develop connections and ensure that everyone benefits from the exciting cultural activities happening across all our campuses and the two cities.
I also work with Culture Southampton – the city’s development trust – to define and cultivate the University’s active role in contributing to Southampton’s city-wide cultural aspirations. There are some big aspirations, including the opening of Studio 144, a new arts complex that from 2017 will be home to the John Hansard Gallery, an expanded Nuffield Theatre and community film organisation City Eye. One of my biggest tasks is to ensure that we articulate the role the University has and will continue to play, to ensure the success of the complex.
What is your vision for arts at the University of Southampton?
My vision centres on showcasing the extraordinary work we already do in terms of the arts, but to also communicate that the arts are for everyone. Collectively, we want people to have access to the arts, to be inspired by them and to develop new opportunities that allow more people to become actively involved.
Ultimately, my vision for arts at the University is to harness what we already have and to ensure that it delivers to its fullest potential. Lots of departments are already leading the way in terms of innovation and are frequently inviting artists to work with them; we just need to raise peoples’ awareness of these exciting initiatives and communicate how to get involved.
Why is it important that the arts be coordinated?
For me, it’s important because that coordination adds to the overall understanding of the value the arts can offer. For example, someone who may already be interested in classical music may be brought to experience a new and different art form through a collaboration between, say, the John Hansard Gallery and Turner Sims Southampton.
We’re such a research-intensive University and we work so strongly in terms of interdisciplinarity, that for me coordination is all about making sure we maximise the opportunities we’re afforded, and ensure that our audience are aware of everything that’s happening. If we only promoted visual arts to WSA students, we’d miss a whole tranche of students who might love to know about it, and who maybe in the past haven’t had that same level of broad and encompassing communication.
How will you measure the impact of your work?
I think you can always look at audience numbers and ask: “have more people attended?” But we’re trying to do something different here, part of which isn’t so easily pinned down or quantified.
Working closely with academic and professional colleagues, we’re trying to understand the value, the quality and the experiences which can be gained by people who get involved with the arts. Through this process we’re launching the Arts Ambassadors scheme, which will provide useful, real-world professional development opportunities for students, which can be measured.
There will always be a number of ways to measure impact, but essentially we will be looking at the wider qualitative picture.
What are your highlights for the year so far?
Getting the job! There are so many amazing people who’ve been doing huge amounts of quality work; we have the British Art Show 8 coming to John Hansard Gallery from October among many other exciting initiatives, so I’ve had to hit the ground running. Seeing the levels of commitment in regards to supporting the role of the arts and securing the benefits for everyone into the future has been really inspiring. That said, I think my highlights for the year are things I’ve observed colleagues doing, rather than things I’ve done myself.
If you had to pick one production/concert/installation that you’ve seen at one of the University’s Arts venues, which would be your favourite and why?
Back in 2001 when I was doing my masters at the Royal College of Arts, I visited the John Hansard Gallery and the memory of that visit was one of the things that really inspired me to apply for this role. It was an installation of work by a Canadian artist named Michael Snow and the quality of the exhibition, the gallery and the work, made a deep impression on me. Fifteen years on, my recollection of that day encapsulates what I think the role of the arts is all about: creating the sort of long term impact, experiences and memories that stay with you, and that’s something we can continue to deliver for people.
What should we be proud of already?
Everything! The calibre of arts that people have the potential to be exposed to here at the University has been nationally and internationally recognised. However, the thing I’m really excited about is the opportunity we have to further develop the fantastic skills, enthusiasm and potential of our students.
Arts at University of Southampton launches from 3 October 2016. This accessible gateway will offer students, staff and the wider community information on arts across the University, and the cities of Southampton and Winchester, along with opportunities to get involved. For information visit, http://www.southampton.ac.uk/arts
The British Art Show 8, at John Hansard Gallery at University of Southampton’s Highfield Campus and Southampton City Art Gallery runs 9 October 2016 – 15 January 2017. For more information, visit britishartshow8.com