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Glyndŵr University - harnessing creativity

Dr Stuart Cunningham, Academic Leader for Creative Industries, Media, Performance and Humanities at Glyndŵr University, contributed the following article to a recent edition of the Western Mail:

Creativity has been a difficult word for higher education to wrestle with in recent years.

With universities increasingly required to justify their income from the public purse in terms of economic benefit as well as educational excellence, there have been suggestions that degrees focusing on skills such as art and design, the humanities and theatre studies may not ‘pull their weight’ in a changing world.

These subjects have at times been too easily characterised as being out of touch with the real world, with some questioning whether it is in our interests as a society to facilitate study in these areas when there may be pressure to focus on subjects seen as having a more traditionally vocational or commercial aspect.

 

That is changing, and changing dramatically, particularly here in Wales. Since devolution we have seen companies large and small flourish in areas such as graphic design, traditional crafts, printmaking, music, poetry, and animation. This creative boom has led to opportunities for people not just to express their talents, but to harness them and make a living out of the things they love.

The challenge for universities observing these growing industries is to work out how we fit in to the wider picture – how we can provide the support infrastructure to underpin the network of existing practitioners, and help ensure the next wave of creative people in Wales are equipped to join them and build their own futures in music technology, journalism, TV production and countless other disciplines, some of which are in their infancy.

Meeting that challenge involves seizing the opportunity to connect those areas. We need to recognise that the creative industries as a whole can work together, and that universities are best placed to facilitate that kind of sharing. Ensuring students studying fine art, for example, are in touch with fellow students and teaching staff working with the latest digital techniques, will lead to a broader understanding between the disciplines. It also opens up the possibilities for creative people to form networks and come together to build sustainable businesses based on their skills.

 

Through degree programmes such as the BA (Hons) Design: Communication we are encouraging students to explore their potential in general illustration, illustration for children's publishing, illustration for graphic novels, graphic design and multimedia design.

 

Our BA (Hons) Design: Creative Media is similarly combining specialist disciplines including animation, creative lens media and digital art for computer games.

The BA (Hons) Design: Applied Arts looks at design using ceramics, glass, jewellery and metalwork to create decorative pieces that push boundaries and use materials creatively.

Partnerships with industry, as well as those among students, will also be key to placing the creative industries at the heart of the Welsh economy for years to come. At Glyndŵr University we have a longstanding arrangement with NWN Media in training journalists, and we are now forging links with the BBC. The Corporation shares our new Centre for the Creative Industries, a building which includes cutting-edge facilities and is in many ways the physical embodiment of our approach to bringing together creative disciplines.

While working relationships such as these should stand us in good stead, it is also important to look outside the creative sector to see how some of the ideas and processes we teach can be applied elsewhere. The blending of creative talent with new technology leads to exciting circumstances where industry-relevant, inter-discpliniary research can take place. Research projects which find creative solutions to problems in industry or the public sector are leading to some fascinating outcomes.

At Glyndŵr University we have a number of projects which involve the health service. Art and design and performance students have, for example, been working with clinicians to help improve the clinical environment. This kind of innovative thinking exploits the natural tendency of creative people to challenge assumptions and find novel solutions which may not always be apparent to others.

As we see the old and the new being fused so effectively both in the academic environment and in the world of work, one thing is becoming increasingly clear. It is not creative subjects that are outmoded, but the arguments of those who have blindly opposed them in the past.

Universities across the country are acknowledging that by bringing together disciplines and ensuring their courses are focused on the creative industries as a whole, they can play a key part in equipping Wales to compete in the changing global economy.

Click here for a flickr album highlighting just some of the creative work going on at Glyndŵr University.

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