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Arts organisations are increasingly engaged with universities and there are benefits for both sides, says Rosy Greenlees.
There have always been relationships and collaborations between higher education and the arts: many universities have galleries and theatres and for years, arts practitioners have found employment in the Higher Education (HE) sector. But recently this has developed into a more formalised agenda. HE has been encouraged by the Government to take a more proactive approach to engagement in industry, business and the community. This process of engagement is called knowledge transfer or exchange. Knowledge exchange means that, in addition to academic teaching and research, by generating good ideas, research and skills HE can contribute more fully to the economic, social and cultural life of the UK. And so, where do the arts fit into this?

Creative spaces

An important part of the academic environment is time out to think and research. In the arts, space to do this is rare, even though the lifeblood of arts organisations is their creativity. Recognition of the benefits of putting creative practitioners in an academic environment, and the relationship between theory and practice, is now being acknowledged through programmes such as the Arts and Humanities Research Councils Fellowships in the Creative and Performing Arts programme. Conversely, there are also opportunities for arts organisations to be the sites of research by hosting doctoral students through programmes like the Collaborative Doctoral Awards or Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs) where a postgraduate student will use their knowledge to assist a business/organisation in developing its work.

Academics are being encouraged to consider the opportunities and potential that their work has within a wider public context, and knowledge exchange is about maximising the synergy between the two. Even the more traditional types of research can have unexpected results. Research by an academic at Royal Holloway, University of London into John Donne revealed a series of unknown songs. As a result the academic organised a performance at St Pauls Cathedral with recitals by well-known actors and musicians to an audience of 1,000, generating both income and profile, and resulting in the possibility of a CD.

Sharing resources can be the starting point for developing special relationships between academia and the arts. Queen Mary University of Londons School of English and Drama has harnessed new theatre resources by bringing together practising artists and academic researchers in The Bridge Project. Special relationships with four artists and theatre companies have enabled them to bridge professional performance practice and research.

Mutual support

HEs relationship with the arts is not just through the arts and humanities subject areas. Increasingly, collaborations are of a multi-disciplinary nature; indeed, arts organisations are often more attracted to the possibilities of working with areas such as digital technology or the social sciences. For example, Kings College London engineering academic Mark Miodownik is developing a new materials library and has collaborated with the Hayward Gallery and Tate Modern, making his unique resource accessible to artists and designers.

The location of a university or college can play a key role in the local economy, with business clustering around the institution. This is true of the arts: for example Goldsmiths College and Laban have been key to the development of Deptford and Lewisham as a cultural quarter. Now with the development of Creative Lewisham, Goldsmiths College is working to engage with local creative businesses by providing support and training.

Finally, there is the collaboration HE and cultural organisations have in the delivery of courses. There are now more jointly taught courses bringing theory and practice together, and often recruiting from both students and the public to the same accredited module. For example, Birkbeck College has joint courses with the British Museum and the Wallace Collection and is developing new programmes with community theatre.

The recognition of the need for greater professional development is leading to an increase in the provision of Continuing Professional Development and the development of postgraduate courses fashioned to the needs of the sector. Many HE institutions have well-developed programmes aimed at those already in employment but who want to develop their skills and to do this in a workplace setting. For example, the leadership agenda is a much debated issue at the moment in the arts, and City University has launched a Women and Leadership programme for women in the cultural sector. There is also the enterprise agenda, which aims to give students the opportunity to learn more about the professional and business skills required to work in a given sector. This is now being developed in the arts and humanities subject areas. Introducing students to arts organisations is key to their understanding of how the sector works and to developing their personal networks.


There are, however, challenges to developing knowledge exchange in the arts. There can be very different expectations from both the HE institution and arts organisation in terms of language and timescale. Many arts organisations want to work with HE (and vice versa) but have no forum through which to connect. Therefore networking opportunities to bring academics and arts organisations together are really important. Both HE and the arts already have huge demands made on them. For academics there is the need to contribute to their institutions research record though knowledge exchange, when most effective, can count towards this. And some would argue that an academic requires a distance or objectivity from the subject being interrogated and that knowledge exchange mitigates against this.

As for the arts, they dont necessarily have the human, physical or time resources to respond. Some of the schemes currently being introduced (as described above) will bring new opportunities to the arts sector, but the requirements may initially exclude many smaller arts organisations. However, encouraging greater permeability between higher education and the arts sector can bring benefits on both sides. The sharing of knowledge and expertise can only be a good thing. In such cases the impact of these activities may be not just the generation of new projects and income but also the introduction of new ideas and thinking on both sides. The resources of an HE institution can be fully exploited and its teaching is more likely to have relevance to the sector.

In policy terms, the Government has been driving this agenda through the Office of Science and Technology via the Higher Education Funding Council for England, with a resultant emphasis on knowledge exchange in the science and technology areas. However, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has created an HE and Creative Industries forum with two task groups on Knowledge Transfer and Research and on Skills and Entrepreneurship. Arts Council England has recently been looking at its activities in higher education and the Regional Development Agencies are engaging more with HE through the knowledge exchange agenda in terms of its impact on the regional economy.


More work is required to understand the impact of knowledge exchange in the arts and there need to be mechanisms to enable this to take place. Many HE institutions are beginning to develop expertise and the London Centre for Arts and Cultural Enterprise is one such example. Funded through HEFCE Higher Education Innovation Fund, this is a collaboration of seven London HE Institutions: Birkbeck, University of London; City University; the Courtauld Institute; Goldsmiths College, University of London; Kings College London; Queen Mary, University of London; and Royal Holloway, University of London. Its role is to promote the exchange of knowledge and expertise with the capitals arts and cultural sectors. It does this through a team of Cultural Development Managers creating networking events, showcasing the work of the partners, supporting new collaborations, developing enterprise programmes for students and providing a resource for knowledge exchange in the cultural sector.

At a time when the creative and cultural industries are increasingly promoted and the knowledge exchange agenda is expanding there is a real potential for the arts and HE to collaborate and to benefit from knowledge exchange in ways that are relevant and meaningful to them both.

Rosy Greenlees is Director of the London Centre for Arts and Cultural Enterprise.
t: 020 7420 9444;
w: http://www.lcace.org.uk