Campus close-up: Liverpool John Moores University

Links with nearby top cultural institutions offer students unrivalled opportunities

July 24, 2014

Source: PA

Passing the baton: cultural partners broaden opportunities for students

The 2014 Liverpool Biennial – often regarded as the country’s premier cultural event outside London – opened earlier this month. It is a sign of Liverpool John Moores University’s close integration with the cultural life of its city that it has a joint appointment with the Biennial – Joseph Grima, senior lecturer in architecture – as well as joint appointments with Tate Liverpool and the Foundation for Art and Creative Technology. It also reaches out to the city through a long-standing series of Roscoe Lectures, exploring citizenship (often through stories about overcoming hardship), where speakers have ranged from the Dalai Lama to Ken Dodd.

All this is just how vice-chancellor Nigel Weatherill wants it. He joined the university in September 2011 and, with the new fees regime coming in, soon found himself involved in the process of renewing its strategic plan. This led him to think back to its 1823 origins as the Liverpool Mechanics’ School of Arts and to develop the idea of a “modern civic university” adapted to the needs of a city that has obviously changed hugely but that is again seeing “significant investment” and is “culturally very vibrant – in music, contemporary and classical art, theatre, never mind sport”. Here was also one of the keys to enhancing the student experience.

“Within about 400 metres [of the university],” he explains, “we’ve got a world-class symphony orchestra at the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic with a world-leading young conductor [Vasily Petrenko], we’ve got Tate Liverpool and we’ve got the Everyman Theatre, which has just been rebuilt at a cost of £30-odd million…Of course we need excellence in the classroom and the laboratory, but we believe passionately that we want to give our students far more than that. If we can work in partnership with one of the country’s best provincial orchestras and Tate Liverpool, we don’t need to invest funds in our own art gallery or concert hall – because we will never do these things as well as them.”

Such thinking has led to new or greatly extended but still developing partnerships, although Weatherill stresses that they are “not only about reductions in ticket costs and things to go to, but real solid partnerships where our students in their hundreds and thousands will interact with the musicians and conductors and get a chance to talk to the artists at the Tate. We are not trying to convert them into ‘culture vultures’ but to give them some experience and confidence. If they don’t like contemporary art, that’s fine, but at least they can say ‘I touched it, I experienced it. That was all part of my Liverpool John Moores experience.’ ”

LJMU is one of the two principal partners of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, providing financial support and help in kind, such as lending their staff office space while their hall is being redeveloped. Subsidised tickets enhance the students’ experience of the city and culture while helping the orchestra to reach an often inaccessible younger demographic. A forthcoming concert tour of China will also allow the university to host events for potential clients and to raise its profile there – very important for an institution that hopes to boost its proportion of students from outside the European Union from 4 to 15 per cent by 2020.

Cheap season tickets for concerts and plays at the Everyman and free entry to Tate Liverpool may be attractive to students, but such partnerships can also serve deeper purposes for both institutions.

Last year, there was an exhibition at Tate Liverpool, Art Turning Left: How Values Changed Making 1789-2013, that arose directly out of a PhD at LJMU. This included “a working office and education centre” known as “The Office of Useful Work”, which amounted to a highly unusual experiment in incorporating a university seminar within an exhibition.

“What does it mean to do a seminar in a public space?” asks Francesco Manacorda, artistic director of Tate Liverpool. “Both our institutions are concerned with the acquisition and distribution of knowledge. Can we break down the conventions of how we present knowledge? If you think of a museum as a learning machine, and less as a form of entertainment, working with higher education becomes quite empowering. We are exploring ways of working with students in creating public-facing programmes that are co-created, as well as looking at the emancipatory potential of art. I hope we can both get part of our core mission realised in the partnership.”

In numbers

15% - Target for proportion of students from outside the EU by 2020

matthew.reisz@tsleducation.com

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