Comment | Culture is always part of a shared prosperity
By David Amigoni, director of the Keele Institute of Social Inclusion, lead for Keele Deal Culture and ArtsKeele, and co-chair of Stoke Creates, CIC. This article first appeared as a Personally Speaking column in the Stoke Sentinel on February 23rd, 2023.
When I met Randal Keynes, the distinguished conservationist, more than a decade ago, I didn’t have to explain. He knew the Potteries. He knew Keele. He knew the Potteries because he was still a regular invitee to the (then) annual pilgrimage to the Leopard in Burslem as direct descendant of Josiah Wedgwood. He knew Keele because, as both descendant and chronicler of the intertwined family histories of the Wedgwoods and the Darwins, he had consulted unique papers in the University’s special collections.
The city's heritage of innovation, entrepreneurship and growth signalled by the name of Josiah Wedgwood is no stranger to this column. However, Randal’s surname 'Keynes' is another marker of an inheritance in which we all share. Randal Keynes is also the great nephew of the thought-leading economist John Maynard Keynes who argued for public expenditure as an agent of economic growth. J.M. Keynes was also, from 1940, the first chair of the Committee for Encouragement of Music and the Arts. Keynes’s committee became the national Arts Council in the later 1940s, close to the time when Keele University was founded in 1949.
As the city considers new opportunities for public investment through the launch of the much-anticipated Shared Prosperity Fund, another contribution to Levelling Up, it is inspiring to recall that optimistic, post-war settlement in which higher education played a regenerative role through education and research. Regeneration would be stimulated through the fusion of the arts, sciences and culture that Wedgwood mastered; and which remains a key part of Keele's wide-ranging deals with our students, civic partners, and local communities.
The Keele Deals were launched in 2017. Heralded by a £70 million investment to create jobs and growth, the business deal was followed by a Keele Deal on Health in 2020: and, in 2019, on Culture. Keele has always been committed to sharing arts and culture and we're fortunate to have superb resources to share. Sir Barnett Stross, the GP, MP, and hero of Lidice Shall Live, gifted part of his remarkable art collection to the University in the 1960s. We used to loan works of arts to students to place on their study bedroom walls! We now share the collection with everyone, digitally, through the ArtUK platform, another welcome recent addition to Stoke-on-Trent's vibrant arts and culture ecosystem. We look forward to joining up with PMAG, using the re-united Stross art collections to tell the humbling Lidice story anew as part of a new city-wide heritage strategy.
Stoke-on-Trent's cultural ecosystem was boosted by the City of Culture bid of 2016-17. The energy and connectivity unleashed encouraged us to develop Keele Deal Culture, which has enabled the University to work with valued cultural partners: including Stoke-on-Trent City Council, Appetite Stoke, the New Vic Theatre, B-Arts, and British Ceramics Biennial. Keele Deal Culture is expected to boost the local creative economy by £36 million over a ten-year period from its launch. The ArtsKeele team, along with academic researchers have just concluded one of our most successful years (2021-22), recording a total number of 88,509 visitors who have been engaged by an ArtsKeele event or installation. As a conservationist, Randal Keynes would I'm sure approve of our COP 26-related focus on the scientific and cultural innovations we need to address sustainability, the climate crisis, and the drive for net zero, discussed, explored and experienced artistically beneath Luke Jerram's GAIA installation – this alone attracted almost 10,000 visitors.
Keele's culture work also moves us beyond the beautiful campus. The Three Counties Art Exhibition now happens in the splendid environment of the Burslem School of Art. This reminds us how much we need our collaborators, and why Keele Deal Culture forms an important part of the wider collaborative impact project of Stoke Creates, the Arts Council England approved (and funded) cultural compact for the city. Stoke Creates brings an even wider range of partners to the eco-system, including colleagues at Staffordshire University, YMCA, and the Chamber of Commerce. Culture is always already part of our shared prosperity. Together we can leverage public investment to regenerate it into lasting, sustainable value for the city.
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