By Siobhan Harper
I was unfashionably keen to be part of the Café des Arts team this year, and thrilled when I was successful! I’d attended most of their events the previous two years that I’d been at Ustinov, and, as an arts student and enthusiast myself, had often thought about what events I’d love to put on if I were a part of this project.
Over the course of this year, my fellow team members and I have aimed to make our events as broad and encompassing as possible, since the concept of ‘the arts’ leaves so much for interpretation and exploration! Our events this year have sought to cover numerous aspects of arts and culture, to be as international as possible, and far-reaching in terms of both event content and type—including academic talks, crowd-sourced talks, workshops, and musical performances.
We’ve succeeded in covering ‘art’, ‘film’, ‘music’ (both performance and theory), and are working on ‘literature’ even as I type this. So far this year, we’ve arranged: a meet-and-greet of contemporary Japanese artists whose work was on display at the Oriental Museum, with a discussion of their work; a film and discussion evening about mental illness, creativity, and the arts, featuring the film Frida (2002); a rug-making workshop with the Durham Rug Makers; a talk on trauma and musical modernism; and a crowd-sourced talk from our very own Ustinovians about inspirational women for International Women’s Day.
Café des Arts also comprises the Ustinov College Choir, a small, un-auditioned choir filled with individuals who enjoy singing. We’ve put on two events starring the choir—an ‘alternative’ Christmas concert and a Spring concert—which both also featured poetry and prose readings, including international examples. The success of the Christmas concert in particular was a proud moment, featuring as it did both a fascinating talk from a professor of music about the origin of the Christmas carol ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’, and a full repertoire of international carols and Christmas songs by the choir. Have you heard ‘Hark! The Herald Angels Sing’ sung in eight different languages before?
Of course, it’s not all plain sailing, and while I’m so proud of the events we’ve succeeded in putting on, I’d like to spare a moment for those events that were unfortunately not to be: an event about Lumiere, Durham’s biennial festival of light, featuring the organisers themselves; a talk about the cultural history and importance of tattooing; and a joint event with the Race, Crime, and Justice team featuring a play about domestic violence. Some ideas if you’re interested in taking over the position next year!
We have worked alongside the Ustinov Volunteering Team, hosting their bake sale at our events to raise money for the Ustinov Foundation, and hope to be working with Café Scientifique soon. Arts and culture, rather than being separate from science, politics, and indeed our everyday lives, are fundamentally intertwined with them—there is so much scope for events connecting these varying themes.
Café des Arts is valuable because it brings the world of the arts and the arts of the world into the temporary home of students who are studying incredibly diverse and often non-arts postgraduate degrees. Everyone, regardless of their academic interests, has at least some interest in art and culture—whether it’s music, theatre, dance, film, art, reading, television—and it is incredibly important to have this represented and promoted as part of college life. The arts, even if not your field or your lifestyle, can act as escapes and retreats, and learning more about them can only be a gain.
And aside from working as part of the individual project, I also work as part of the bigger team of Global Citizenship Programme scholars. We have regular meetings, often with home baking from our multi-talented members, and I’m lucky to have met such wonderful people during my time at Ustinov. The level of organisation, constant glow of enthusiasm, and genuine interest in such a wide array of topics and themes is staggering to witness. I’m honoured to have been a part of it.