University of KentImage courtesy of University of Kent

Meet our Champions: Karen Cox

To help tell the Creative Estuary story we are delighted to have the support of our Champions to advocate for us and amplify our vision. Our Champions are drawn from many walks of life, reflecting our diverse and inclusive creative region, but all strongly support the Creative Estuary vision and ambition.

We want you to get to know our Champions better and so we sat down for a series of fascinating conversations to allow them to give us an insight into their role and involvement in Creative Estuary, what their aspirations are for the project and their love for our stunning estuary.

Professor Karen Cox is Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of Kent, a university with a world-class research and innovation culture. Its projects combine cultural, creative, digital and entrepreneurial skills in the twenty-first century cultural and creative industries. The University of Kent leads on the Creative Estuary project and we are extremely lucky that it is playing such a huge part in making our mission a reality.

Tell us about your current role:

As Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of Kent, I lead the university’s work to deliver learning and teaching that delivers fantastic opportunities for our students, outstanding research that changes lives, and our engagement with the people and communities of Kent and Medway. We have nearly 20,000 students and nearly 3,000 staff. I have a great team around me and it’s a job I enjoy immensely.

What is your involvement in Creative Estuary:

The University of Kent is leading the four-year project to help bring about a real step-change in the Thames Estuary’s work as a focus and a hub for collaboration, creativity and inspiration for the region. Our job is to be a catalyst, along with partner organisations, to help create a world-class centre for the creative and cultural industries and to help realise the immense potential of the area in industries that are so important to our region, its communities and the country as a whole.

Why did you say “yes” to becoming one of our champions?

The project is a perfect example of collaboration, bringing together different sectors and organisations in such a rich and purposeful way. I want our university to be a part of that and we’ve got a great deal to contribute. Personally, I find it an incredibly inspiring initiative, so it’s important to me to be able to convey that and to do what I can to give it my full backing.

To you, what is the biggest draw of the Estuary for creatives?

I think it’s the incredible pool of artistic and creative talent that’s already here in the region. We saw some of that talent on display at the recent Estuary Festival. But it’s the further potential too that’s really exciting, the opportunity to be part of something that’s genuinely inspiring.

It’s also the strong collaborative mix of artists, curators, designers, history and heritage professionals, public sector and cultural organisations, universities and local authorities that makes it such a fertile, rich and exciting place for a wide range of creatives in many different disciplines and areas of work. And then there’s the landscape, with its wide-open spaces and large skies which are such important sources of inspiration – it’s a great place both to live and to work.

As the result of the pandemic have you (or plan to) updated your creative syllabus to help students adapt to the new normal?

It’s been a challenge for our students and staff to adapt to learning and teaching online, but I’m very proud of the speed with which they’ve done it, and the positive attitude they’ve brought to it. At Kent we’re very fortunate, because we have so many opportunities for creativity in our learning, our research and the way we engage with our region – this project is a vital part of that!

In the new academic year we will be making even more of those opportunities – through our venues and the theatre, music, cinema and spoken word programmes that go on there, on our campuses and in our regions, we’ll be foregrounding the creative activity that has been so important to our students’ wellbeing during lockdown, and making sure there are many more opportunities for them to be involved in a new initiative called Creative Kent – watch this space for further information soon!

One of our aims is for the Creative Estuary to be a place to inspire (investment, enterprise and productivity). What inspires you about Creative Estuary?

I think it’s the power of creativity to bring about lasting change and real benefits to the Thames Estuary that inspires me most. We know what the creative and cultural industries mean to this country, in economic terms but also in terms of regeneration, a vibrant and exciting cultural life, international leadership and reputation and so on. Here’s a wonderful opportunity to bring that amazing power and those extraordinary benefits to our region and to instil a sense of real pride in its achievements. That’s a wonderful prize that deserves our full support.

Our champions are drawn from across creative, education, development and finance industries. They reflect the inclusivity we want to grow with the development. How can HEIs help to ensure diversity in the creative industries?

There’s certainly no shortage of talent in our region, but we all know that not everyone has access to the same level of opportunity to have their talent nurtured or recognised. That’s as true in the creative industries as it is in any other. So we all need to do more to make sure we’re giving talent a chance to flourish wherever it can be found.

We at the University of Kent work hard with schools and colleges in the region to ensure that progression to higher education is available to all who want that opportunity. Through our work with ART31 – part of our Arts Council partnership at the Gulbenkian – we aim to enable young people’s leadership so that they can create a culture that more closely reflects our region’s diverse communities.

But we all need to do more, to share best practice, work in partnership, monitor progress and so on, to ensure that everyone has the opportunities they deserve.

What is your favourite place on the Thames Estuary?

I think this has to be Chatham where we have a campus. It’s the most wonderful mix of history and heritage, innovation and creativity, one which plays an important role in the local area. Whenever I visit I’m struck by the enormous sense of opportunity there – bringing together the dynamism that comes with new initiatives like Creative Estuary with its place as a historic gateway to the wider world. It’s an inspiring place to be and that’s something our students really value.

Image courtesy of University of KentImage courtesy of University of Kent

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