The University of Huddersfield’s Professor Steve Swindells and Dr Anna Powell are making significant contributions to a global debate over public engagement with the arts and the role that can be played by universities.
They have edited and contributed to a new book that explores the subject, and they have presented papers at conferences in the UK and overseas. Also, a collaboration between the University and the local Kirklees Council – which has seen a series of innovative exhibitions at Huddersfield Art Gallery – has been an important case study.
The book is entitled What is to be Done – Cultural Leadership and Public Engagement in Art and Design Educationand is published by Cambridge Scholars. Its origins lie in a 2013 symposium that was hosted by the University of Huddersfield and held at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London. The event was an exploration of the impact and cultural value of the arts and the socio-cultural barriers that hinder public engagement.
The new book, said Professor Swindells, was initially intended to be a straightforward record of the proceedings of the symposium, but developed well beyond that. He and Dr Powell edited the contributions and provided key chapters themselves, exploring public engagement with the arts and the role that is played by civic universities.
Developing new audiences for contemporary art
A contribution by the University of Huddersfield to the cultural value of its district have been exhibitions mounted at the town’s art gallery, showcasing work by art and design staff. Named ROTOÐ¯, the project began at the start of 2012, with an aim of developing new audiences for contemporary art. After two seasons, the highly-varied, sometimes provocative ROTOÐ¯ shows have been well received and now there are hopes that a new Arts Council award will provide funding for a third series, starting in 2015.
There are also plans for a collaboration between art and design lecturers and colleagues in the University’s School of Human and Health Sciences. Research based on cognitive psychology techniques would measures the effect of the ROTOÐ¯ exhibitions on their audience.
The exhibition series has led to the Arts Council consulting the University of Huddersfield on the topic of public engagement with the arts and the civic role that universities can play. Also, Professor Swindells and Dr Powell are members of the Arts Council’s Cultural Knowledge Ecology Forum, which spans the entire North of England and examines the best ways of developing partnerships between Higher Education institutions and cultural organisations.
The two researchers acknowledge that there are barriers that can prevent people from taking an interest in art.
“Our next stage with ROTOÐ¯ is to look at what these potential barriers are and how they can be overcome or alleviated without compromising the artwork,” said Professor Swindells.
An artist himself, he is Professor of Creative Practice at the University of Huddersfield, where Dr Powell is Research Assistant in Contemporary Art, with a speciality in the relationships between artwork, curatorial practice and audience. Recently, the two academics have travelled widely to present papers on aspects of their research.