Thursday, 19 January 2017

Tate values and Community theory

I was delighted to read that Maria Balshaw has been appointed as the new director of the UK's most famous art galleries: the Tate .

I had the pleasure of working alongside Dr Maria Balshaw at “Nene” or “University College” in the late 1990s, which was  an immensely exciting time to be a Lecturer in English and Cultural Studies. 

The undergraduate course was very ambitious in terms of its academic complexity and its diversity of ideas about the relationship between Theory, the Arts, and Society. 

As collaborators in an innovative institution we felt liberated to take risks and to embrace creative challenges within the “Combined Honours” degree programme. At the same time, tutors such as Maria played an influential personal and academic support role with students who were sometimes surprised to find that they had been fortunate to have been awarded an opportunity to study for a degree. 

As a tutor, Maria inspired students to have the confidence to explore representations of race, gender and sexuality and to challenge media stereotypes.

Subsequently Maria moved away and established a successful career in the community and public arts field. But Maria was not a stranger to Northampton. By 2007 we were establishing the practice of cultural regeneration and social enterprise at the centre of the core values of the University. At this time we established the Institute of Urban Affairs and I was appointed as the first ever Professor in Community Regeneration and the Arts.

Although professionally in high demand, Maria kindly agreed to participate in our programme of external speakers who were exploring the transformative potential of the arts. Maria delivered a public lecture which was a memorable inspiration to a new generation of staff and students who were starting on their life journey through creative ideas and professional work.

As Maria takes up her prestigious post as Director of the Tate she will undoubtedly continue to stimulate debate and provoke deeper and wider engagement with the role of the arts in society. Anyone who shares in those values will be delighted to celebrate Maria’s new position at the centre of British life and international artistic endeavour.

Dr Ian McCormick (Staff, University of Northampton, 1994-2009)

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