Unexpectedly, perhaps, tucked away as it is in an Eastern corner of England, Norwich is a hub for the arts. Surrounded by fields, farms and all things Norfolk, Norwich is home to a plethora of literary and artistic enterprises and charities.
Photo: Gerry Balding
As part of his exhibition Where the Wild Things Are, sculptor Thomas Houseago visited UEA’s very own Sainsbury Centre of Visual Arts last year. As Arts editor, I was lucky enough to meet Houseago, and speaking of his sculpture, he explained that there was nothing more profound than putting ‘thought and energy into inert materials to give it truth and form’. Houseago’s words struck me at the time, but it was only recently that I began to engage with the way that human creativity holds the potential to transform and invigorate not only words, materials and spaces, but communities and social structures as well.
During the past year, I have been privileged to work alongside creative organisations and witness exciting developments in the city’s artistic community. In May 2012, for example, Norwich became England’s first UNESCO city of Literature. The bid was put forward by the Writers’ Centre Norwich, a literary development agency which explores the power of community and creative writing through projects such as the Escalator Literature writing competition, the international City of Refuge Programme and Summer Reads schemes.
Since 2012, the SCVA has collaborated with both the South Asian Decorative Arts and Crafts Collection and the Tate, who have loaned UEA’s art gallery Umberto Boccioni’s Unique Forms of Continuity in Space for the rest of the year. On campus we have also been lucky enough to celebrate, as part of UEA’s 50 year anniversary, the National Theatre of Scotland’s partnership with the city’s annual Norfolk and Norwich Festival. The theatre company’s award winning performance of Black Watch opened the festival as part of its national tour.
Stephen Fry famously claimed that ‘Norwich is a thriving, living city, a contemporary place, which has consistently moved ahead in its own distinctive, radical and independent way’, and indeed, with independent community arts projects, run by organisations such as Writer’s Centre Norwich, the Garage and the Norwich Arts Centre, it’s not difficult to see what Fry meant when bestowing such affectionate praise upon the city.
Sometimes Norwich appears a little detached from the outside world; with its cobbled lanes, traditional markets and medieval ruins, it can seem a little archaic, perhaps. But, as the UNESCO award demonstrates, the artistic community within Norwich understand that art, literature and music are for everybody, and have been harnessing the arts as a means of exciting and accessible education and community support for years.