HE & me

THE (Times Higher Education) - - NEWS - John Mor­gan

Bar­bara Matthews is pro vicechan­cel­lor (cul­ture) and head of the Col­lege of Art, Ar­chi­tec­ture, De­sign and Hu­man­i­ties at Not­ting­ham Trent Univer­sity. She was for­merly ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the renowned theatre com­pany Cheek by Jowl and of the Royal Court, later serv­ing as di­rec­tor, theatre for the Arts Coun­cil Eng­land. Her first role in higher ed­u­ca­tion was as a pro vicechan­cel­lor at De Mont­fort Univer­sity, and she moved to NTU ear­lier this year. She is now lead­ing NTU’s support for Not­ting­ham’s bid to be­come Euro­pean Cap­i­tal of Cul­ture 2023, sub­mit­ted last month, in which the univer­sity is a part­ner

Where were you born?

I was born in Up­ping­ham, Rut­land.

How has this shaped you?

It was a small and very sup­port­ive com­mu­nity. My fa­ther was a teacher who also wrote books, and so ed­u­ca­tion, learn­ing and schol­ar­ship were con­stant com­pan­ions dur­ing my up­bring­ing. Al­though Up­ping­ham is a small mar­ket town, I was taken to plays and con­certs as a child, and the town li­brary was a sec­ond home on Satur­days.

How did a chem­istry grad­u­ate find her­self man­ag­ing theatre com­pa­nies?

I acted at school and spent more time on the univer­sity stage than I did in the lab­o­ra­tory [at Durham Univer­sity]. But I felt that I could not act pro­fes­sion­ally with­out some train­ing – which I could not af­ford. The National Stu­dent Drama Fes­ti­val came to Durham in my last va­ca­tion, when I was meant to be head-down in the li­brary. I of­fered to help with the or­gan­is­ing, and after a week of 17-hour days I re­alised that

I might have found a home for my ad­min­is­tra­tive skills! After a year of work­ing in a res­i­den­tial chil­dren’s home in Houn­slow to raise the money, I did a post­grad­u­ate diploma in arts ad­min­is­tra­tion at City Univer­sity [now City, Univer­sity of Lon­don] and wan­gled a place­ment at the Old Vic in Lon­don. Much to my de­light, they of­fered me a job and I stayed.

Look­ing back on your ca­reer in theatre, what are you most proud of?

Be­ing part of the team that brought about Cheek by Jowl’s all-male As You Like It – with Adrian Lester play­ing Ros­alind. It was a won­der­ful piece of theatre, which we toured all around the world, was en­joyed by thou­sands and won a Lau­rence Olivier Award for its di­rec­tor, De­clan Don­nel­lan. Play­ing a part at the Arts Coun­cil as it com­pletely rethought its re­la­tion­ship with those it funded – there were some major chal­lenges, but I think the­atres and theatre com­pa­nies were in a bet­ter place as a re­sult.

Why does a univer­sity need a pro vice-chan­cel­lor for cul­ture?

At univer­sity, stu­dents dis­cover their fu­ture roles along­side aca­demics who in­ter­ro­gate our past and cre­ate our fu­ture. Cul­ture and cre­ativ­ity are es­sen­tial in­gre­di­ents – for ev­ery­one, not just those study­ing cre­ative sub­jects. Uni­ver­si­ties are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly aware of their role within their com­mu­ni­ties and their con­tri­bu­tion to the so­cial, eco­nomic and cul­tural suc­cess of their re­gions. An in­formed and strate­gic ap­proach to en­gage­ment and in­vest­ment en­sures that ev­ery­one ben­e­fits.

How will you be con­tribut­ing to Not­ting­ham’s bid to be­come Euro­pean Cap­i­tal of Cul­ture, and why does the city de­serve the ac­co­lade?

NTU has joined with the Univer­sity of Not­ting­ham, the city coun­cil and the Cul­tural Strate­gic Part­ner­ship to support the bid process. Many aca­demics have con­trib­uted ideas, and our staff have been very ac­tive in help­ing to spread the mes­sage. Our Cap­i­tal of Cul­ture bid, ti­tled “Break­ing the Frame”, sets out how the city will em­power its cit­i­zens to take cul­ture back into their own hands and will give them the op­por­tu­nity to re­frame their re­la­tion­ships with Europe through cre­ative col­lab­o­ra­tion. The ti­tle is in­spired by the “frame-break­ers” of the Lud­dite re­bel­lion, which orig­i­nated in Not­ting­ham, then the global cen­tre of the lace-mak­ing in­dus­try, in 1811.

Is NTU’s in­volve­ment with the Cap­i­tal of Cul­ture bid partly about shift­ing me­dia and pub­lic per­cep­tions of the city? How could that ben­e­fit NTU?

Partly – but it is much more than that. Not­ting­ham is al­ready a richly vi­brant city with a di­verse cul­tural of­fer – very much in­flu­enced and con­trib­uted to by NTU’s grad­u­ates and staff. The des­ig­na­tion of Euro­pean Cap­i­tal of Cul­ture will help us to show­case what we have and raise our am­bi­tion so that our stu­dents, staff and grad­u­ates can en­joy some of the best art avail­able, work along­side in­ter­na­tional artists, vol­un­teer and col­lab­o­rate. Suc­cess will help us with re­cruit­ment of stu­dents and staff, forg­ing new re­search part­ner­ships across Europe, [de­vel­op­ing] op­por­tu­ni­ties for our grad­u­ates and fur­ther­ing our work in sup­port­ing

Our Cap­i­tal of Cul­ture bid, ‘Break­ing the Frame’, sets out how Not­ting­ham will em­power its cit­i­zens to take cul­ture back into their own hands

the de­vel­op­ment of the East Mid­lands as a cen­tre of cul­tural and cre­ative ex­cel­lence.

What kind of un­der­grad­u­ate were you?

One who used the three years to find out who she was.

What ad­vice would you give to your younger self?

Have the courage to be dif­fer­ent, and take ev­ery op­por­tu­nity you can.

Tell us about some­one you ad­mire.

Too many to men­tion! But a com­mon fea­ture is the abil­ity to see the world from a unique per­spec­tive and yet com­mu­ni­cate it in a way that many un­der­stand – a cru­cial abil­ity in an artist – cou­pled with gen­eros­ity and com­pas­sion.

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