Six interrelated objectives flow from these aims. Each of them is explored in general terms below.
The diversity of cultural activity at the University is a great strength, and attempts to impose uniformity or corporate constraints should be avoided. At the same time, the importance of culture to the institution’s life and future suggests that it should be integrated into the University’s planning and decision-making machinery. The process of interpreting, developing and implementing the vision should be guided by a Pro Vice-Chancellor who would oversee a review at least biennially in liaison with other PVCs with a professional interest in this agenda. Links between this document, other strategic papers and particular projects should be the subject of ongoing discussion. The vision should also be shared externally, with a view to ensuring that it complements, as far as possible, the city’s and the region’s plans for cultural development. Arts Council England, South West, Great Western Research, Bristol Cultural Development Partnership, Bristol City Council and organisations including Watershed, Arnolfini, the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum, the Royal West of England Academy, Bristol Old Vic, Spike Island and the Tobacco Factory should be viewed as potential partners with whom the University can share ideas, aspirations and projects.
There is scope to devise or clarify standards against which some aspects of the University’s cultural development can usefully be measured. For example, the architectural quality and public-art content of new buildings in the precinct and the enhancement of its open spaces are important aspects of the University’s cultural life. Buildings must, of course, be practical and flexible, but their appearance is a significant influence on the satisfaction levels of students and staff and has a major impact on the University’s reputation locally and further afield. The opportunity exists to create buildings and open spaces that are held up as examples of what can be achieved. A clear set of principles and expectations could help to ensure that this opportunity is exploited to the full. Consideration of cultural issues, based on such principles, should be built into the planning of projects from the outset.
A further example of the need for policies and standards relates to historic buildings and landscapes rather than new ones, and to the University’s distinguished collections of documents, objects and artefacts. Obvious examples include the 18th century Royal Fort House and Goldney House, together with their respective gardens, Clifton Hill House, the Wills Memorial Building, Old Baptist College, The Holmes, the Library Special Collections and the Theatre Collection. The first step might be to ensure that a proper inventory and evaluation exists of all such heritage assets. Where they are not already available, policies should be devised for the care, conservation, interpretation and accessibility of important buildings, landscapes and collections, with a view to reaching or maintaining nationally agreed standards. Potentially, this is a major area of work that should be treated as a formal project under the Prince 2 methodology so that the planning, leadership, management and resource issues are considered in a structured manner.
There are other specific issues facing existing and proposed cultural enterprises that should be addressed as part of, or in conjunction with, the vision. These are reflected in the following interrelated questions:
Discussions in the Victoria Rooms Project Group and the Nuceus Culture Sub-Group point to a number of tentative conclusions on many of these issues, as summarised below:
There are related issues associated with other ways in which the Engaged University Strategy can support and be supported by this vision; how best to maintain or extend the varied cultural activities of academic departments other than Music and Drama; and the future of the relocated Botanic Garden as a cultural asset. It is suggested that these are for the Engaged University Steering Group, faculty boards and the Botanic Garden management to consider. Provision for sport is already under the leadership of the Director of Sport, Exercise and Health, but its development should be viewed as an essential dimension of the strategy.
To help faculties, departments, divisions and student groups identify and pursue new cultural opportunities
The existence of a vision for the University’s cultural life and the development of new spaces through Nucleus should help academics, support staff and students pursue some of their own cultural ambitions. The Institute for Advanced Studies, with its interest in interdisciplinary dialogue and engagement with academic and other communities beyond the University, and the Centre for Public Engagement, are likely to be among those who will wish to make use of the venue. However, there are two highly desirable or essential factors that should be considered if the cultural potential of Nucleus and of the University as a whole is to be realised:
It is difficult to see how the full implementation of the cultural vision can be much more than wishful thinking if it is not supported by some financial and human resources.
To achieve greater internal and external recognition of the University’s cultural strengths
The University’s existing and potential cultural strengths are not well understood or appreciated at present, either inside or outside the organisation. There is an important job to be done in raising awareness of this aspect of the University’s life and so capitalising on it. In an increasingly competitive higher education environment, it is becoming essential for universities to differentiate themselves in the market and to make the most of their advantages. A more dynamic cultural life would, of course, be valuable in its own right, but it would also have implications for the University’s identity and reputation. Again, having a member of staff whose remit covered the cultural agenda (see iii) would be helpful if not essential in this regard.
There is scope to revisit the University’s Positive Working Environment commitments (published June 2005) with a view to exploring how culture could be employed more effectively as a means of enhancing the working lives of University staff (and, indeed, students). As they stand, the commitments make reference to the importance of sport and fitness but not to other aspects of culture.
At the same time, the Education Strategy states that one of the measures of a rewarding student experience is ‘Numerous opportunities to take part in social, sporting and cultural activities’. The cultural vision should contribute to the development of such opportunities, and the next iteration of the Education Strategy could include reference to this in its objectives and actions.
To increase the University’s engagement with cultural projects taking place in Bristol and the city-region
As mentioned earlier, Bristol is a culturally dynamic city. There are always interesting and ambitious projects on the horizon, and it makes sense for the University to engage with them readily in order to reap benefits and contribute more to the life of the city.
2006 sees the 200th anniversary of the birth of Brunel and the University is heavily involved in the very extensive celebrations that will be taking place in Bristol and elsewhere, but there will be many other opportunities to be part of new initiatives in the city. The Bristol Festival of Nature is one. Another is the 2007 bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade. This will be marked locally and nationally, and is an occasion to which the University could no doubt contribute a great deal in ways that are consistent with its academic enterprise and with issues that are of perennial concern to Bristol people. It is in projects of this kind that the Cultural Strategy and the Engaged University agenda can come together.
Many academic departments already have a close relationship with cultural organisations and projects in Bristol and further afield. The vision should help to encourage this and ensure it is recognised and valued.
Approved by Senate February 2006