Tips on working with the creative arts to enrich your research

Collaborating with the arts sector is beneficial and not only for universities’ REF impact scores. Plus the latest higher education appointments

七月 3, 2014

Source: Lovett Collection/Winston-Salem/NC.

Trend-setter: and wearer of the eponymous Alice band

If academics want to engage with the creative arts, said Maria Delgado, professor of theatre and screen arts at Queen Mary University of London, her advice was to “think big, but don’t be afraid to start small”.

When she was working on Spanish theatre, she made contacts with local arts practitioners, which not only reframed her research priorities but inspired her to translate a number of plays from French and Spanish, to set up the ¡Viva! Spanish and Latin American film festival and eventually to take on a consultancy role at the London Film Festival. PhDs in the humanities were once “very much about individual achievement”, she explained. Now they were “often driven by the needs of the creative sector”.

Although the “impact” criteria in the research excellence framework could “provide a way of recognising a lot of work that is already going on”, Professor Delgado warned her fellow academics not to “exploit [their partnerships with creative industries] simply to derive ‘impact’ but to enrich your research and teaching through engagement”. It might even be a good idea to require all universities “to host an arts organisation as part of the ecology of their campuses”.

Professor Delgado was speaking at a conference last week entitled Culture, Creativity and the Academy – building a new “Grand Partnership”, organised by the Culture Capital Exchange and held at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

The Guildhall’s principal, Barry Ife, argued that it was “now absolutely second nature for universities to engage productively with all aspects of our culture”.

Other speakers looked at the challenges and rewards of specific collaborations: from artists in residence introduced into departments of dentistry, to research projects exploring the links between fashion and horticulture, or the vast range of “stories, secrets and clues about who we are” now stored on our mobile phones.

Ricarda Vidal, associate lecturer at King’s College London, gave an interactive presentation on her “translation games” project. Although this started with translations between languages, it soon evolved to incorporate “translations” between media, “from film to choreography or from Spanish to silk painting”.

Kiera Vaclavik, senior lecturer in French and comparative literature at Queen Mary University of London, described how a single research project had led to two very different collaborations. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was first published in 1865, she explained, yet even today “people across the world – young and old, world-famous and unknown – design clothes for [Alice], wear clothes which she adorns and dress like her”.

Her research project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and entitled Addressing Alice: The Emergence of a Style Icon, 1865-1900, will have “outputs” well beyond a monograph, journal articles and conference papers, she said.

Dr Vaclavik has built on an existing link with the V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green in East London to develop an exhibition called The Alice Look.

After discovering that Lewis Carroll had suggested that an actress playing Alice should be dressed in “a frock…of cream-coloured Liberty silk”, she also decided to contact London department store Liberty.

An Alice-themed textile collection, Pictures and Conversations, will now be launched in January to mark the 150th anniversary of the book.


Harriet Dunbar-Morris has been announced as the executive officer to Brian Cantor, vice-chancellor of the University of Bradford. Dr Dunbar-Morris joins from the University of Bath.

Jennifer Craw has become the first woman to chair a board of governors at a Scottish university with her appointment to the role at Robert Gordon University. She has already been a board member at the institution for five years.

Andrew Morris, currently dean of medicine at the University of Dundee, has been made vice-principal for data science and chair of medicine at the University of Edinburgh.

Gresham College has announced the appointment of Christopher Page as professor of music. Professor Page is currently professor of medieval music and literature at the University of Cambridge.

An authority on the history of the Roman Empire has been appointed director of the Institute of Classical Studies, one of the member institutes of the School of Advanced Study, University of London. Greg Woolf, currently professor of ancient history at the University of St Andrews, assumes his new role on 1 January 2015.

Tjeerd van Staa, a pioneer in the field of health informatics, has joined the University of Manchester’s Centre for Health Informatics.

Middlesex University has appointed Judith Lamie as deputy vice-chancellor, international. Professor Lamie, who joins from Regent’s University London, will head the strategic leadership and development of the university’s international activities, partnerships, business development and reputation.

The University of Law has announced the appointment of Andrea Nollent to the position of provost. Professor Nollent will take up her post on 1 September.

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