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When Culture Meets Covid: A New Webinar

How do you bring people together to really celebrate the arts and culture when faced with a global pandemic? 

That will be the fascinating topic of discussion when a Liverpool Hope University academic speaks at a unique conference this week. 

Dr Catherine Morris is a Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at Hope, having recently arrived at the University. 

Before joining the Hope family Dr Morris was a Lecturer in Culture, Community and the University at the National University of Ireland (NUI), Galway. 

And her time there coincided with the city of Galway being designated a European Capital of Culture in 2020 - the same way Liverpool enjoyed that title in 2008. 

Her role saw her co-founding the Centre for Creative Arts Research in Galway at NUI Galway as part of the Capital of Culture celebrations. She’s also a board member of the University Network of European Capitals of Culture (UNeECC), an organisation that explores how universities both contribute to and reap the rewards of ‘Capital of Culture’ successes. 

But how do you truly showcase and applaud a city’s culture - and also highlight a university’s important work - when you’re staring down the barrel of one of the deadliest diseases in modern history?

For Dr Morris, it was about moving swiftly from a physical to a digital space as the entire world went online. 

And she’ll talk about her experiences at the UniverCities and Culture: Culture and Arts in the Digital Era conference - a joint event hosted by UNeECC and the Network of Universities from the Capitals of Culture (UNICA) - when it takes place at 3pm on Wednesday 17th November. 

You can register for the webinar - which will ‘focus on initiatives, where the intersection of art and digitalisation results in novelties and innovative approaches’ - and download a programme by heading to the UNICA website

Speaking ahead of the conference - in which her lecture is entitled ‘Capitals of Culture: Reimagining in Digital’ - Dr Morris said: “Galway was awarded Capital of Culture in 2020 and for myself, being from Liverpool, I’d done a huge amount of work focusing on how universities successfully engaged with Capitals of Culture to create new educational programmes and professional development opportunities for students, and to really have a significant conversation with the city. 

“It was about asking, ‘How can universities really structure themselves in order to take advantage of those opportunities’, and ‘How do they organise themselves to really engage in that conversation - not just from a legacy perspective but from a starting point?’

“I was looking to Liverpool as a specific example of how we might translate that experience into Galway. 

“And then, of course Covid-19 happened. 

“The impact - in our year of Capital of Culture - proved very, very challenging. We were going to bring artists and writers to Galway, in partnership with the European Cultural Parliament. But those plans were thrown into disarray. 

“So instead we created a unique online forum. We didn’t just want a digital conference where people simply stand up and give their lectures, we tried to do something different - in that we had a series of invited conversations with a whole host of people - including an incredible theatre company in Liverpool called Creative Encounters, which is run by former Hope Drama lecturer Dr Sarah Thornton - where we asked questions about how they’d coped with the pandemic. 

“For us, it was about using the digital landscape to capture the sorts of conversations that often happen in corridors, or unofficially, at conferences - rather than in lecture theatres - but which are actually the most interesting parts of the day.”

A great example of how NUI Galway reacted to the Capital of Culture win is how it set up a host of new postgraduate programmes, including an MA in Curating and Producing, so that students now have an opportunity to work with arts practitioners in cultural institutions and venues to really progress their work. 

Dr Morris, author of the 2021 book Alice Milligan and the Irish Cultural Revival, focusing on the career of prolific Irish writer Alice Milligan, adds: “It was also important to understand how a university can use digital resources in its educational work and research - and also to understand how universities can link-up in pan-European and International forums.”

Dr Morris got involved with UNeECC through Professor Bill Chambers, Pro Vice Chancellor Emeritus at Liverpool Hope University. 

He was also Pro Vice Chancellor at Hope when Liverpool was awarded the Capital of Culture in 2008 - something he says really ‘changed the city’ and brought a ‘new confidence to the people’. 

And Professor Chambers says that Liverpool’s Capital of Culture success prompted Hope to create the ‘Big Hope’ event - in which delegates from across the globe gathered at the University to debate the subjects of freedom, conflict, equality and change in relation to the world’s young people. 

Professor Chambers, who is Vice President of UNeECC, adds: “Being awarded the Capital of Culture had a profound effect not just on Liverpool but on Hope, too. 

“With Big Hope We welcomed almost 900 young people from 60 different countries. We had Prime Ministers and high profile guests, such as the barrister and writer Cherie Blair. 

“And as a university, we wanted to establish Hope’s position not only in the city but on a global scale. It was an amazing event which I, and many others, remember with great love and affection.”

The original Big Hope was followed-up by a 'Big Hope 2' youth congress, which took place ten years later in 2018. 

The University Network of the European Capitals of Culture (UNeECC), an international non-profit association, was founded upon the initiative of the University of Pécs in Pécs, Hungary in December 2006 by 15 founding members, including Liverpool Hope University. The membership has now swollen to 50 nations. 

The Mission of UNeECC is to ensure the recognition of the role and contribution of universities to the success of the cities conferred the title “European Capital of Culture”, to provide the member universities with a possibility of continuous and full participation in the European Capitals of Culture movement, and to foster inter-university cooperation to develop and reshape the regional position of universities to create activities for cities and universities.

Published on 15/11/2021