Interview: Fintan Walsh on Birkbeck Arts Week

Interview: Fintan Walsh on Birkbeck Arts Week

Interview: Fintan Walsh on Birkbeck Arts Week 1

We caught up with Fintan Walsh, Professor of Performing Arts and Humanities at Birkbeck University of London, to talk about Birkbeck Arts Week: an unmissable series of events showcasing the latest creativity and research.

Birkbeck Arts Week | 7-10 May | Free

Hi Fintan! Tell us about Birkbeck Arts Week. What can we expect at the festival?

Arts Week is an annual event at Birkbeck, and our chance to share the work of academics, students, alumni and our collaborators with everyone for free. We aim to showcase the breadth of our subjects across literature, theatre, languages, film, media and creative writing, the kinds of research we do, the sorts of problems we solve, the communities we help, and the myriad ways we apply and communicate our research. So it’s both a celebration of what we do, and a way of opening up conversations with those who join us.  

There are lots of cuts and bad press being levelled at the arts in universities. How does Arts Week seek to challenge this?

The financial problems facing universities in the UK are certainly not the fault of arts, but sometimes these issues get muddled, often for ideological and political reasons. Arts Week is an opportunity to show how the arts are far from niche but involve teams of people working together to produce new ideas and knowledge that directly change how we understand people, history and culture; how the arts influence politics and society; how they lead to employment; how we collaborate with other disciplines and industries.

For example, anyone coming to Arts Week will have the chance to see how theatre has been at the forefront of resisting conflict in Ukraine, how literature gives us access to experiences of colonisation and freedom, how poetry provides insights into psychological experience; how media shapes democratic process; how script writing makes it ways through to production at the BBC. This reflects something of what arts research and education involves at Birkbeck, and Arts Week shows just how invaluable this work is.

Who or what inspires your work at Birkbeck, championing the arts?

The work of my colleagues, artists, students and graduates inspires me to continue championing the arts. Arts Week shows how the arts bring people together rather than divides us, how the arts have the capacity to reveal our deepest longings and fears, how the arts have the capacity to imagine new ways of being together that other subjects cannot, how the arts make life more liveable. A world without arts, or a university with arts, is a world without pleasure or possibility, and I don’t believe that this is a world in which any of us really want to live in.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about taking an arts course at uni, who might be concerned around the value of their time and money in a world that devalues creative subjects? 

I don’t believe that the world devalues creative subjects, but there are sections of the UK (media, government) that don’t want everyone to have equal access to the arts, or are fearful of creative, thoughtful people who are passionate about cultural understanding and social justice, which are often at the heart of an arts and humanities education. But this isn’t the first time in history when the arts have come under attack for these reasons, and it’s not the time we have to fight for what matters most. 

In the UK, the creative industries grew at more than 1.5 times the rate of the wider economy over the past decade and contribute £108 billion annually. Students are consistently drawn to arts and humanities courses, because they tap into what it means to be human, and we know that graduates are highly sought after by employers in a range of industries. So often we have students come to us to study arts who have worked unhappily in other sectors, which is a constant reminder that it’s not an impulse anyone can ignore, and Arts Week demonstrates just how rewarding and varied the pursuit can be.

What are your favourite London haunts?

Interview: Fintan Walsh on Birkbeck Arts Week 3
Camden People’s Theatre

For theatre: Camden People’s Theatre always has a brilliant programme serving emerging theatre and performance makers; Soho Theatre always has an eclectic and often entertaining range of performances and comedy; The Whitechapel Gallery and the Barbican programme the full range of artistic practice, with great spots to eat and relax too; the Peltz Gallery at Birkbeck has a free annual programme of exhibitions open to all, as does Birkbeck Cinema.

See the full programme here: Birkbeck Arts Week | 7-10 May | Free