Inside Out Festival

The Inside Out festival aims to fling open the doors of the academy and allow scholars’ work to roam free in London and engage with its many publics, writes Matthew Reisz

October 11, 2012




London underground: among the Inside Out events showing a different side of the capital is the Metroland exhibition

In 2004, reports Sally Taylor, executive director of The Culture Capital Exchange (TCCE), “people said: ‘I’m an academic. You’re not an academic. I am therefore cleverer than you - what have you got to offer me?’ We tend not to work with people like that any more, and they are much more of a minority than they used to be.

“Then, knowledge exchange with the creative and cultural industries was very much in its infancy. Now we are seeing the results of the impact and public engagement agendas, and the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s large grant scheme requires applications to involve collaborations with institutions outside higher education. That’s quite a sea change in eight years.”

The Culture Capital Exchange arose out of LCACE, the London Centre for Arts and Cultural Enterprise (later Exchange), which was a consortium of seven universities led by King’s College London and set up in 2005. The underlying idea, explains Taylor, was that “knowledge transfer activity was happening a lot in science and technology, but not in the cultural and creative industries. Since the cultural industries in London are great drivers for economic growth, it seemed daft that the universities weren’t more engaged.”

Last year, King’s spun off TCCE as a stand-alone, not-for-profit company limited by guarantee. Its 11 current members are the Central School of Speech and Drama, the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance; Middlesex University and the University of Roehampton; City University London, King’s College London and the University of the Arts London; and, from the University of London, Queen Mary, Royal Holloway and the Institute of Education.

“We want to showcase the excellence that comes out of universities and highlight the role they play in the cultural life of London,” continues TCCE director Suzie Leighton, “because it is underappreciated and not really understood.” By finding the right partners and presentations, it is often possible to reach new audiences for research that would otherwise remain stuck within the academy.

A striking example cited by Leighton is a 2009 book by Shaun Cole - course director of the MAs in fashion curation and the history and culture of fashion at the London College of Fashion - called The Story of Men’s Underwear. Although written in a lively and engaging style, it was issued by a small academic publisher with a limited marketing budget. TCCE was able to team Cole with an all-male dance company and the House of Fraser, the country’s largest vendors of men’s underwear, for an event in which performers pranced around the Westfield store in the underwear of different eras. Since the shop’s Westfield and Oxford Street branches also decided to stock the book, it reached far beyond the expected niche market and secured excellent sales as a Christmas coffee-table book.

TCCE’s latest showcase for the exciting new ideas coming out of London’s universities is the third Inside Out Festival, presented in association with Times Higher Education and the New Statesman. This will take place all over the city from 22 to 29 October and bring academics face to face with practising artists and the general public. Up for debate will be everything from the Arab Spring to the branding of James Bond, the changing face of the book, shrinking England and declining audiences for live arts events.

Metroland (22 to October) is an exhibition of photographs by MA students from the London College of Communication looking at how life is lived in today’s London. Music will range from a gala performance of Haydn’s oratorio The Creation, presented by Cruse Bereavement Care and Trinity Laban (25 October), to a recital of little-known songs by the composer Viktor Ullmann (23 October), who was killed at Auschwitz in 1944. This is tied to a production of Ullmann’s last opera, The Emperor of Atlantis, by English Touring Opera and will lead into a discussion in which Royal Holloway academics Erik Levi and Robert Eaglestone (respectively professor of music and professor of contemporary literature and thought) explore the historical background, and the moral and aesthetic issues raised by the art of the Holocaust.

TCCE’s team - three full-time employees and one part-time, all women - is based at Somerset House on the banks of the Thames. Under the main courtyard is the celebrated Deadhouse, lined with the graves of 17th-century courtiers, which will make the perfect venue for the first in a series of site-specific events on “Death and Space” (23 October), which bring together philosophers, creative writers and visual artists.

The Lost Prince, the National Portrait Gallery’s exhibition on the boy who would have become Henry IX if he hadn’t died at the age of 18, provides the setting for a philosophical discussion on death led by Michael Takeo Magruder (25 October), an artist and researcher based at the King’s visualisation lab. Meanwhile, Robert Hampson, professor of modern literature at Royal Holloway, will explore the themes of his book Conrad’s Secrets - naval secrets, trade secrets, sexual secrets, urban secrets and medical secrets - over a drink in the legendary Fleet Street pub Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese ( October), a location with intriguing links to Joseph Conrad and his novels.

It is a perennial struggle to expand the audience for cultural events beyond the middle class and middle-aged. Other forms of exclusion will be considered in a British Academy panel debate on 24 October, “Where Are All the Women?”, and a more informal discussion entitled “Feminist Changes: Changing Feminisms” (26 October), which will feature comedy, photography, personal testimonies and research, and will also be the occasion of the launch of the book Repudiating Feminism: Young Women in a Neoliberal World by Christina Scharff, a lecturer in culture, media and creative industries at King’s.

Leighton hopes that debates on “Al-Qa’ida Resurgent?” (24 October) and “Queer Pasts, Queer Futures”, the latter accompanying a screening of Derek Jarman’s film Edward II (25 October), should attract a different demographic. She also hopes that students will come along to the panel discussion, “University Challenged”, chaired by Bamber Gascoigne (22 October), “to embarrass their academic masters and turn the tables on them”.

Although any festival inevitably looks to include some big names - a discussion on war art in 2010 featured broadcaster Kate Adie and human rights lawyer (and professor of law at University College London) Philippe Sands - Leighton believes that Inside Out also has an important role in “showcasing the next generation of interesting, sparky, accessible academics, and helping them develop their careers”.

A good example is Shahidha Bari, lecturer in Romanticism at Queen Mary, who took part in a discussion on “the literature of New Labour” in 2010 - and found it “bracing to lend my brain and agile mind to new topics. It was just the right moment for reappraising New Labour, an opportunity to take stock, so I spoke about Stephen Lawrence and changing ideas of Britishness for non-whites such as myself.”

Although she is adamant that the value of research, far less its funding, should have nothing to do with its accessibility, Bari says she loves public engagement events such as the Inside Out Festival because of the opportunity they offer “to highlight how valuable arts and humanities are to general life. They make me think about what is at stake in my research and encourage the mainstream media, which have a very limited idea of what is interesting to public audiences, to take more risks.” She will be appearing on this year’s universities panel and also joining forces with Ariel Kahn, who teaches creative writing at Roehampton, for an “Arab-Israeli Book Review” (23 October) looking at “diaspora identity”.

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