BLOG: Why a second renaissance is vital to keep the arts relevant

Arts at the University of Wolverhampton have a growing reputation for inspirational teaching and research, engagement with the creative industries, and longstanding commitment to being anchored in the communities we serve.‌

 

Looking back, our Arts School was established in the middle of the Victorian era at the height of the Industrial Revolution of which the Black Country was the heartland. Its purpose then was to encourage and value the Arts with a view to enhancing and promoting design concepts and techniques so that industry could improve the manufactured product. 

Today those values are equally important and as a University we are committed to continuing to develop and promote the Arts for the benefit of our society and for future generations.  Alongside that we need to help shape our economy and provide opportunities for our communities to secure roles and functions within the developing growing creative industries which is the fastest growing sector in the UK economy.

The University has a key role in delivering opportunity and to help unlock the under-utilised creativity in the Black Country. But at a time of economic uncertainty with employment opportunities and educational attainment in the Black Country being below the UK national average we face a challenge.

This means that we have to address change that is necessary for today and the future.  The position we face is that nationally over the last few years there has been a decline in demand from students wanting to study certain areas of the Arts.  Some of that is down to the narrow school curriculum reforms introduced by the previous government, which made study of the Arts less of a priority.

This has happened in the past with the demise of the study of modern languages and the years of decline in the study of science in schools. Universities have responded to this lack of demand by changing and adapting what they do because we believe it is essential that we enable and promote subjects that are crucial to the development of the economy and positively benefit society and our cultural capital.

That is why we have had to change some of what we offer.  Over the last year we have reviewed our extensive portfolio and found that we need to stop doing some things and focus on other areas in order to encourage and allow the Arts and Culture to flourish in a different way.

We are fully committed to the arts and we will still be offering 95% of our current programmes - a comprehensive range of over 150 courses covering Arts, Humanities and Media. 

We will be growing our work in the creative industries, with focus on fashion as well as our digital offer including gaming, media, illustration and animation whilst ensuring the promotion and development of the broader Arts.  We will be investing in our provision through the expansion of our commitment to the Arena Theatre as a cultural venue in Wolverhampton and exploring other facilities to work in partnership with across the Black Country.

Initially the changes in the Arts will enable us to shift the balance to areas of immediate need as we train more nurses, paramedics, medics and engineers and scientists. Once the Arts have stabilised and begin to grow again we will have a firm base to invest. Growing the Arts in our region is important to us as they enhance the cultural life of our city - the growing success of our annual Artsfest programme is testimony to this. We are anchored in our region and developing the Arts is a vital part of the regeneration of Wolverhampton and the Black Country. 

Among our former students and staff we have world-leading figures in a range of Arts disciplines. These include famous sculptor/illustrator and Turner prize nominee, Cornelia Parker, celebrated jazz singer and broadcaster and Music graduate, Clare Teal, Howard Jacobson, former University lecturer and Man Booker prize winner, Trevor Beattie, graphic design graduate and world-famous advertising executive who created the FCUK brand, animation graduate Richard Phelan who created the BAFTA award winning film Shaun the Sheep, Peter Bebb who studied 3D Design, won an Oscar as part of a team for Visual Effects on the movie, Inception, which starred Leonardo DiCaprio and Michael Cumming, a Fine Art graduate who is a leading director and filmmaker.

We have inherited a range of skills and practices which form an important part of our artistic and industrial heritage. We remain dedicated to providing a wide range of subjects in the Arts and Humanities, building on our strong base which has been shaped by our heritage.

Whilst we are refocusing the direction of Arts and Culture at the University of Wolverhampton, we are no less committed to providing a varied and diverse experience for our students, giving them the employability skills needed to enable them to become the drivers of our region’s creative future.

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