Inside Track - 23 November 2015 - Professors Frank Finlay and David Cooper

Professors Finlay and Cooper consider the University's impact on culture in the region and beyond.

December is often  a time to reflect on the past year  and to look forward to the next. This is a particularly welcome task when there is much to report and even more to keenly anticipate.  

We are delighted to have the opportunity to share with you news of a range of initiatives and developments which are enhancing our reputation as a centre of excellence in arts and culture.

The University of Leeds, of course, has made an enormous contribution to the cultural life of the nation for well over a century and can lay claim to an almost unrivalled and richly diverse cultural infrastructure. One thinks of the irreplaceable treasures in our archives, special collections and galleries, and a campus replete with public art enhanced in 2015 with striking and thought-provoking new works by Keith Wilson and SImon Fujiwara. 

Then there are the many sites of design and visual art-making and presentation, several publicly licensed theatres, the international concert series, the Leeds International Piano Competition,  the finest of its kind in the world, not mention the numerous  events hosted by the Students Union.  All in all the University is a distinctive beacon of artistic  innovation, a significant cultural 'player' in its own right.

We have had the exciting privilege over the past twelve months to lead the creation of a new "Cultural Institute, one of the flagship initiatives of the University's Strategic Plan. In a nutshell the Cultural Institute will boost engagement with the publicly funded cultural sector and the commercial "creative industries" for the benefit of our research and student education, as well as for the  people of the city, region and nation. 

As home to  the "Culture Theme", one of seven designated areas which are acting as a catalyst for interdisciplinary research across the whole University, the Institute will broker relationships between Leeds academics and  an extended  network of partner organisations in the creative and cultural sector. This  will  enhance the reach and impact of our work and enable us to grapple with some of the major challenges facing our world.  The ground-breaking DARE collaboration with Opera North, which has recently been renewed, as well as our work with Marks and Spencer have  already pointed the way to the  mutual benefits of such partnerships and the public value they can generate. 

The Cultural Institute will also enrich the education of our students in all disciplines by connecting them  with some of the finest minds in the creative and cultural sector. Their learning experience and  life chances will be enhanced  amongst other things via a greatly expanded network of volunteering, placements and internship opportunities. This will boost their  creative knowledge and skills, increase their employability, and support growth in the regional economy. We also envisage that the  partner organisations will be able to offer more opportunities for research-based learning and  project work. 

The Institute will  integrate our cultural treasures and facilities more closely  into the  social and intellectual life of the  University by creating genuinely productive  encounters with them for our staff and students. Additionally the Institute will provide a single umbrella to better celebrate and promote our cultural activities to diverse audiences in our host city and beyond, raising funds to enhance them while  enriching the regional, national and international cultural landscape. 

The UK's creative and cultural industries are the largest in the world relative to GDP. As a consequence they are now widely recognised as a significant  factor in public policy and as a driver for  urban and regional regeneration and economic growth.  We hope that the Cultural Institute will enable the University not least to contribute its expertise in this arena. One example is our support for the ambitious Leeds bid to become European Capital of Culture.  Another opportunity is the government's announcement of a "Great Exhibition of the North", which will celebrate the great art, design and culture in our part of the world.

The vision for the Cultural Institute was endorsed a couple of weeks ago by the University Executive Group and we are looking  forward very much to making it a reality in 2016.

Frank Finlay and David Cooper

Posted in: