Opera North Projects Director Dominic Gray advocates for the dynamism and potency of collaboration in the arts and education when looking to solve the world’s problems.

The world is looking to politics and to science to solve its major problems – homeland security, climate change, immigration, globalisation, pandemics… the list goes on. Meanwhile, the place of the arts, culture, philosophy and ‘play’ has been relegated toward entertainment – valuable certainly, but mostly valued as a pastime, an escape, or to remind us of things we used to engage with before we got too busy, or the problems got too hard.

Culture Forum North challenges this. Our partnerships between leading research centres and cultural organisations are curious about how knowledge, experience and imagination can come together, and empower each other, toward addressing shared questions. We think that being open to conversation between individuals, disciplines and sectors, might be a better way forward than sealing ourselves in separate envelopes.

In the world of opera we are very aware that collaboration is a dynamic and potent force. Our art form relies on it, but even more than that, opera itself was born out of conversations between scientists, humanists, artists and musicians in the early 17th century. In the modern era we are inspired by collaborations such as the Bell Laboratories experiments of the 1960s, where leading contemporary artists worked alongside scientists and engineers to explore the possibilities of video projection, Doppler sonar and wireless sound transmission. The performances and installations they created pointed to a future where artistic practice and research could push each other into new territories.

The Wellcome Collection recently presented composer Max Richter’s SLEEP project – an eight hour lullaby written by Richter in collaboration with the neuroscientist David Eagleman. It was broadcast on Radio 3 as part of their series entitled, Why Music? – a question that in its essence demands dialogue, sharing of ideas and experimentation. Meanwhile, the artist Louise Wilson recently completed her ‘Warnscale’ project, exploring the emotional terrain of childlessness, an exploration Louise carried out with Dr Celia Roberts (Sociology) from Lancaster University.

These collaborations and many more are happening all around us. Culture Forum North gives them something of a shared home, a place to reflect on what has already happened as well as to ignite new sparks of imagination and thought.


  1. Posted by Anthony Haddon / / Reply

    It is great to have a forum which shares the potential of the arts to be at the centre of how we understand ourselves, the world and how to live in it together. It is about “ways of seeing” things and finding new ways of articulating it. Artists find new ways of refining and applying their process through working in different contexts and with all sorts of communities. For myself, I am realising that the artistic process I use honours the intelligence of the brain in equal amount to the intelligence of the rest of the body – so increasingly I pay attention to how someone or myself uses hands to communicate as much as the words coming out of the mouth.

    I have worked for most of my career on the interface between art and education and here is a quote from Peter Green Headmaster of Rugby School who I think sums up the essential place of arts in education. “In science, technologies, maths and even English, there are certainties,rules,absolutes of right and wrong. In these subjects, the student is absolved from any act of interpretation or subjective evaluation. The tick or cross in the box tells the student (and the world) whether he is “right” of “wrong”. But the student of the arts experiences a different reality – a reality that is not binary. Confronted with a work of art in any form – music, theatre, writing , painting – a process of evaluative appreciation is required. And here there can be no certainties. The bastions of right or wrong have disappeared. The student is exposed, floundering in the deep water of forming a point of view and being brave enough to express it………..it is by studying the arts that those muscles of critical analysis, creative interpretation and evaluative judgement can be tested and strengthened. To study the arts is to allow yourself to go to a place of uncertainty. And, in doing so you become your own person,brave and confident”.

    Maybe, young children are naturally brave because they do not seem to be put off by uncertainty, maybe that kicks in as they become more self conscious. The arts can certainly be the first discipline that young people come across that plays with uncertainty but I think every discipline holds the same spectrum of certainty/uncertainty when you dig down into it. Working on Holocaust material with academics in the German department at University of Leeds I have realised that they go much further than me in holding the complexities of a historical narrative. I have learned that academics are there to hold the complexities and constantly adjust and reassess the evidence. I find that quite a challenge as a theatre maker who is trying to craft a narrative that comes across as coherent and gripping for an audience.

    I’ve run out of time so here is a point about opera which does relate in some ways but I just can’t make the bridge for you. So jumping to opera – my observation of opera as an art form in this country is that it provides a portal for the sharing of diverse if mainly European stories, musical scores and voices in all their original languages. If the country votes to leave the EU on June 23rd then the opera becomes a vital link to that european tradition of cultural sharing that will hopefully not be destroyed by a little Britain mentality.

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