University and Arts Council England pledge to support City’s cultural growth

Wednesday 7 November 2018 was a historic day, but probably not for the reasons that you’re thinking. A Memorandum of Understanding was signed between Arts Council England and the University of Southampton. Arts Ambassador Ben McQuigg takes a deeper look at what all this means.

Many students like myself have probably never heard of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), so the first thing to do was to search it. The definition I found is as follows:

A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) is a type of agreement between two or more parties. It expresses a convergence of will between the parties, indicating an intended common line of action. It is often used either in cases where parties do not imply a legal commitment or in situations where the parties cannot create a legally enforceable agreement. It is a more formal alternative to a gentlemen’s agreement.’

Though it is not a legally binding agreement, Arts Council England (ACE) only have MOUs with a small number of organisations throughout the country. The University of Southampton is the first Russell Group university to have an MoU with Arts Council Chief Executive Darren Henley saying that it is an “endorsement” of the University of Southampton’s (UoS) commitment to culture and the art’s. The document was signed by both Darren Henley and Vice Chancellor Sir Christopher Snowden at the new John Hansard (JHG) [jhg.art]. Myself and the other Arts Ambassadors were thrilled to be at the event helping the gallery staff to keep things moving along and to take over the University’s Snapchat account for the afternoon.

The UoS Arts Ambassadors attend the MOU event at John Hansard Gallery – Photo: Oliver Lane

The MOU will see ACE and UoS working together directly to embed creativity as an essential part of everyday life for everyone in Southampton, particularly children and young people. Southampton is so rich in the arts and culture that this signing has further proven that the facilities and organisations in Southampton are worth investing time and effort into.

Darren Henley (ACE) and Sir Christopher Snowde (UoS) signing the Memorandum of Understanding. Photo: Oliver Lane

Having only been in Southampton since starting University here in 2016 I can already say that within two years the cultural expansion in the city is already clear. Mainly due to the opening of the city’s new arts facilities that are now home to JHG, Nuffield Southampton Theatres (NST) and City Eye in the city centre.

JHG now has four galleries dedicated spaces to host installations increasing the number and variety of artworks and exhibitions they can present. NST is now able to programme double the amount of shows since February 2018 when they opened their additional city-centre venue. This arts complex means that even more culture is available in the city, making it more accessible to the population of Southampton.

Guests making their way through the John Hansard Gallery – Photo Credit: Oliver Lane

Alongside art venue directors from Highfield campus and the new arts complex, there were many other guests representing the wealth of arts and culture venues across the city. I had the pleasure of speaking again with Michael Ockwell, CEO of Mayflower Theatre. The last time I met Michael was before the theatre’s massive refurbishment project so I was excited to learn that everything went well and I can’t wait to get to see another show in the ‘good as new’ theatre.

It was such a good event and we were blessed to have live music from two violinists who are a part of SÓN, Southampton’s professional orchestra and ‘Orchestra in Association at Turner Sims. There was a huge buzz in the air as everyone networked over tea, coffee and cake discussing all the amazing things happening in the city.

Violinists from SÓN. Photo Credit: Oliver Lane

Looking forward to 2025, the City of Southampton is bidding for the competitive title of City of Culture. Hull was the last city to have held the title, back in 2017. It was recently announced that Coventry would be the next in line for 2021. Southampton City Council sees the opening of the new arts complex at Studio 144 on Above Bar Street as the “down payment” needed in order to secure their bid for the 2025 title. There is an aspiration amongst the cultural community for the bid will be led by young people in the city and not civil servants or “artist in their 40s and 50s” as city councillor Simon Letts has previously said.

It is an exciting time for culture and art in the City of Southampton and beyond, the signing of this MOU is only the beginning.

Click here for further information and to download the MOU

See the Daily Echo’s report from the MOU event

Read more about the University’s Arts and Cultural Strategy

Arts Ambassadors is a paid opportunity, supported by the Careers and Employability Service’s Excel Southampton Internship programme, University of Southampton

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