There are a number of joint projects between the Arts Council and Newcastle University. How do these come about initially and how do they develop?
Yes, Arts Council England is the national development agency for the arts, museums and libraries in England. Our mission is ‘great art and culture for everyone’, and we work to achieve this by championing, developing and investing in arts and cultural experiences that enrich people’s lives.
So we do need to get involved in supporting a huge range of projects, some are University-led and ongoing, others are one-offs, and still others grow and develop organically.
And a lot of these University projects aren’t confined to campus are they? They have spread out much further than that…
Oh absolutely. We have a 10-year strategy at the Arts Council, but our central purpose is to bring arts and culture to everybody, so what the University does with its outreach programmes, and the taking of arts initiatives off campus and out into the community, is so important. At the Arts Council, we believe that higher education and arts partnerships can add up to so much more. Such partnerships bring together creative forces that address culture, health and well-being, and fuel professional skills development.
For example, Northern Stage is located on campus, but goes way beyond it?
Yes, that’s right. They like to say they are theatre from the north-east, but for everyone. And it’s not just the acting and training they do, but voice coaching and Arts Awards, and partnership programmes as well.
And the Vital North project is another great example of this?
Yes, Vital North is a partnership between Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children’s Books and Newcastle University, and is jointly funded by us and the University.
How has the Vital North partnership developed beyond what might have been originally envisaged?
It has grown massively over the years, and it now includes research, teaching, public events and collections. It is quite a mature and well-developed project – there is even a Partnership Manager for it now to oversee and co-ordinate and communicate the partnership’s work, which in itself is quite unusual.
Had it always been anticipated that it would have the kind of impact it has?
The partnership now offers actual pathways for students who want a career in that field, working at museums and such like. Two students from the University’s MA Museums Studies course undertook placements at Seven Stories, and both are, I gather, keen to pursue careers in the museums sector. I don’t think that was a plan really, it’s just developed that way.
I think University involvement has really added something new and exciting to work with Tyne & Wear Archives and Museums
And is that the same for other projects, such as the Tyne & Wear Archives and Museums and the Poetry Festival?
I think University involvement has really added something new and exciting to that project and work with Tyne & Wear Archives and Museums more generally. The University looked at it in a much more entrepreneurial way. I think they just had a slightly different, and important, perspective.
The Poetry Festival would be a good example of something which was a bit more of a risk initially, but we’ve been able to stay involved, and in May we had our fourth annual festival, the most successful to date.
Newcastle University has taken a lead role on occasion, hasn’t it?
Yes, absolutely. The University has really excelled in taking on a leadership role, working outside its traditional comfort zone. You have to be quite brave to do that, I think. The University is particularly strong in the digital domain, which is maybe an area where traditionally arts and culture organisations might not have had such a presence.
Are there any other ongoing joint projects which we haven’t touched on?
The NewBridge Project in the centre of Gateshead is very close to my heart. For me it hits all of those opportunities for creating cultural excellence – it’s experimental and innovative, it’s artist-led, it’s aware of and responsive to the socio-political and civic landscape we are in, and it has community at its heart. I think that inter-disciplinary approach is going to come more and more to the forefront in the future.
Arts Council has also invested in the Creative Fuse, which has explored the spillover of creativity in business, as well as supporting cultural and creative businesses to grow – something that’s very important for the north-east.
But it’s not only about joint investment, we also work together as strategic advocates and partners, and maybe the North East Culture Partnership is a good example of that.
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