INTERVIEW: ZOE ANDERSON discusses the on-going LECTURE SERIES
life, the universe and everything
AT B&D STUDIOS
BY ZARA WORTH
PEEL Editor Zara Worth catches up with Zoe Anderson, co-ordinator of the on-going FREE lecture series at B&D Studios, Newcastle upon Tyne. Please see the B&D Studios Facebook site for further information/dates/speakers, SHARE and spread the word!
Zara Worth Firstly the where, why and when ... where did the idea for the lecture series come from, what instigated it, and how long has the series been in the making?
Zoe Anderson I decided to create the series at the beginning of this year. I was driving in the car with my dad, we were talking about education and the rise in University fees when he said to me, '...you know, good education's not available for the likes of us, it always has been and always will be just for the people who can afford it'. I do tend to agree with this sentiment, however I don't agree that it should be something which is only accessible to the few, so I thought that I would try and do something about this. I needed the lecture series to run alongside the academic year so that the availability of lecturers wouldn't prove problematic, so I decided to see if we could get together and make something happen for the September start.
ZW Now the what; what would you say are your key intentions and hopes for the series?
ZA My intention is to bring a diverse and interesting lecture series that is free of charge, available and accessible to anyone who wishes to access it. I hope that together we can create an environment where learning can take place on an informal level, whilst utilising some of the best lecturers and researchers in the North East. I would like to build audience numbers and reach out to a broader demographic of the public, there is no money involved in this, which is what is nice about it, the drive for it to succeed comes from the generosity of others. We are limited to Facebook advertising and are slowly building our mailing list, we would benefit from free advertising, flyers, posters etc but at present were having to build up slowly. My wish is to run a second year of lectures, which may be possible as people are contacting us regularly offering to come and talk for free, which, in this day and age, really is unique!
ZW The series jumps between diverse themes and topics, starting with Ezra Pound's poetry and ending on 'Art and Walking', how did you select the speakers, or did they approach you?
ZA At first I approached all the lecturers that I knew, mainly within the Fine Arts, Literature and History; I wanted to cast a broad net. I then asked them to send the call out to friends and colleagues of theirs that may be interested in donating a lecture. The result was a domino affect across Northumbria, Newcastle and Sunderland Universities. At the same time CLL had dissolved and were looking for new premises and a reformation of their organisation so it was fortunate timing as many of their lecturers kindly offered to take part, for free in our series. One of the main things to remember is that all of our lecturers are giving up their time for free, at the end of already long work days and on top of existing work loads. Their generosity is what propels the series and thus far the talks have not only been excellent but delivered to an excellent standard.
ZW Was there any specific reason that you chose to hold the lectures at B&D studios and not, perhaps, an academic institution?
ZA Lectures already take place at an academic institutions, I don't like the idea that institutions are exclusively where learning takes place, and I don't like that the formality of them could put some people off coming. As I have stated, there has never been any money involved in this series, thus we could never afford the price of hiring a room at a University or College. When the idea was first talked about B&D Studios, who are a local community interest project, very generously offered us the use of their communal area, free of charge, as it is in their ethos to help formulate things within the community that are accessible to all people. The communal space within the studios is beautifully decorated and provides a comfortable area where people can meet for a drink before and after each talk. Had it not been for the generosity of B&D Studios the lecture series never would have been able to materialise.
ZW How you describe the series almost feels political, would you say that the series is ‘of its times’ in consideration of the current economic and political background?
ZA Ha, well it may feel political but the intention is to have a broad spectrum of subjects all housed under one umbrella. You could say that the lecture series is, ‘of its times', in the sense that it is seeking to provide high quality lectures to the general public, through academics and professionals that normally you would have to pay to hear speak, and in this climate that is somewhat unusual. Maybe in a different economic climate the lecture series wouldn't work as well, but as it stands today I think people are willing to contribute towards the continuation of a community that is slowly disappearing.
ZW I appreciate that the series does not intend to mimic University education, is it an alternative completely to institutional education, or perhaps an alternate access point to some of the benefits of University education?
The series is in no way meant to mimic University education, the series is just meant to provide an interesting range of topics delivered by experts. We have plans to start a more permanent environment in the future.
ZW The series will of course be of massive benefit to artists based in the North East as well as current students, outside of these groups do you see people who perhaps have never gone beyond compulsory education coming along?
Well this years series is perhaps more heavily arts based, but hopefully people will see the benefit in attending lectures outside their subject area; being an artist is about looking at the world as a whole, not just focusing on other arts based practices. We have a number of people who attend who are former students of CLL which has just recently dissolved. The trouble that we have had is that we'd like to reach further out, but its difficult when local libraries and community centres won't advertise for us. If we could get some money behind the series we could increase advertising and reach that demographic that perhaps haven't been to anything like this since leaving school. Thus far, our numbers have increased from 20 to 65 over four weeks proving that word of mouth is an effective way to advertise.
ZW How are people receiving the concept of a ‘Free’ lecture series so far? Are people generally willing to get involved/contribute?
The feedback that we have had so far has been brilliant. People are genuinely shocked that a years worth of lectures could be organised and delivered without a penny being spent and I think people are delighted that it can happen; that there are people out there who will make something happen for the good of others and are happy to do so without pay. So once again I think it is important to recognise all those lecturers and what they have given to us, for free, often at the end of a long work day!
ZW As the series develops will it stick to the arts or move to featuring lecturers from other academic fields?
I would like the series to be as broad as possible. Now we have proved we can organise and run a successful series, hopefully we will be able to entice lecturers from other areas to agree to give us one lecture. We are also always open to suggestions about what people would like to hear about, or maybe a particular person that they would like to see talk.