Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

King's College: Snapping Up Opportunities to Reach out to the Cultural Sector

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

King's College: Snapping Up Opportunities to Reach out to the Cultural Sector

Article excerpt

Deborah Bull on the cross-fertilisation between her university and the arts. Matthew Reisz writes

King's College London has long had strong links with London's creative industries. It was precisely because it played such a central role in marking the 300th anniversary of Shakespeare's death that Gordon McMullan, the director of King's London Shakespeare Centre, was inspired to begin assembling partners for the ambitious Shakespeare 400 celebrations.

Yet when Deborah Bull joined King's as assistant principal for culture and engagement four years ago, she discovered that most of their cultural partners "looked a bit like King's - big, building-based and with something royal in the title".

Although they still work with such institutions, she has actively engaged with organisations that are "more 21st-century, more fleet of foot and, perhaps, project-based". She has also overseen "a huge step change in what we are doing" and ensured that "it's more closely articulated as part of the university strategy".

The fundamental principle, she explains, is that "we are a university, therefore we do excellent research, we do excellent teaching, we engage with the public - and we use arts and culture as a mechanism to deliver those core objectives".

After a career as one of the leading ballerinas of her generation, Bull spent 11 years at the Royal Opera House as creative director, ROH2, where she describes her responsibilities as "increasing the permeability of the organisation, finding ways for it to engage more effectively with new art forms, new artists and new audiences".

Given that "the issue of public subsidy [for the arts] is very live and very public", she believes that cultural organisations have generally been "a little bit ahead" of universities in thinking about access and ways of demonstrating their public value. So how does the university's cultural engagement pan out in practice?

Meerkats and sandpits

Sometimes an organisation or individual artist working on, say, ageing, privacy or Virginia Woolf will seek help, says Bull, and her team can "broker a collaboration with an expert". Sometimes third parties such as the All Party Parliamentary Group for Arts, Health and Wellbeing or the BBC Get Creative initiative need research partners. And sometimes a King's academic is "looking for an alternative perspective" and they can organise "open space sessions" or "sandpits" to facilitate partnerships with the cultural sector. …

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