- Arts & Literature
- Science & Technology
By Adam Bouyamourn
I didn’t think I’d ever write this, but I reckon Oxford University could make the claim that Harrods once did: being able to offer anything. The Arts Weeks held across numerous colleges are a testament to this. From talks by a Creative Director of BBC Radio, to drama on the lawns, to life drawing classes and poetry recitals (well, something has to be a little more conventionally Oxonian), the events offer a smorgasbord of cultural encounters.
What do the Arts Weeks set out to offer? No need to be the next Bach, Virginia Woolf or Carol Ann Duffy. The focus is on participation in the Arts, rather than nurturing only the very best. In other words, experimentation and enjoyment are paramount.
Arts Weeks do suffer from the usual dilemma of Oxford’s extra-curricular activities: too much going on and not enough time to juggle it all. As such, it’s even more important to provide opportunities that are informal social occasions too. But is there the danger that the ‘traditional’ arts media – poetry, the visual arts and dance, for instance, – lose out to those that promise banter and a bar? The “great and appreciative” atmosphere at previous Arts Weeks suggests more students are prepared to engage in familiar events. Andrew Cummings, co-organiser of St. Anne’s Arts Week, explained that: “The Open Mic night is always quite well attended, and many people won’t want to miss the chance to enjoy the sunny weather.” That said, it’s important to remember that trying out new things is behind the ethos of Arts Week. As alien as attending a music recital may seem, you may discover a gem. BBC Young Musician of the Year winner, violinist Jennifer Pike, will be performing at LMH Arts Week in 3rd Week. As they rightly point out, her performance will be “probably the only time in your life you will have the chance to see her for free…”
Events don’t come much more esoteric than Brasenose’s ‘Shakespeare-a-thon’ on 13th May. It involves 38 plays, performed in 30 hours, inviting wild and wonderful re-interpretations by a revolving door of participants. The concept originated in America (yes, I also wondered how easily transatlantic versions could crucify the Bard’s work), but has never been attempted in Oxford before. Art at its most subjective: will the university’s thesps choose to create a saner Lady Macbeth, fuelled by Red Bull at 4am?
Tight JCR budgets can be a stumbling block for Arts Weeks. The type of corporate sponsorship Keble effected in Hilary term provides a welcome financial bolster, but is often difficult to procure. Consideration of future budgets comes into the question when budgeting for events. Extravagant shows this year are all very well, but don’t make next year’s balance-sheet pleasant reading. A paucity of financial supplies does engender the need to deploy some unashamed self-publicity, a sine qua non in the traditionally impoverished arts world. One LMH student, Rebecca Sidall, seemed to think it an effective strategy, believing that the turn-out at events would be bolstered by amicable support for those involved. She wasn’t so sure, however, that ardent publicity – in ubiquitous poster form – would increase active participation: “That,” she added, “depends on how good the ‘art’ is!” An emerging theme, then: an exciting way to re-consider what we each know as ‘good art.’
So, Oxford University Arts Weeks. An opportunity to gawp at LMH’s stunning grounds and swat away the summer flies, courtesy of a Friday night BBQ in 2nd Week. A chance to listen to St. Anne’s impressive music recitals, sitting back on the lawns. Act in Romeo and Juliet in the small hours, and you might see Shakespeare in a way you never thought possible. Above all, Arts Weeks are about new interpretations, whilst preserving more conventional approaches.
I’ll drink Pimm’s to that.