Thinking forwards in New York

Knickerbocker Club, New York. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Knickerbocker Club, New York.
Image: Wikimedia Commons (

Two weeks ago (hot on the heels of Storm Jonas), at a dinner hosted by the University of Edinburgh’s North American Office at the Knickerbocker Club in New York, I was delighted to have the opportunity to share my sense of excitement at the enormous potential and energy which resides in our School at this crucial moment, five years after the merger of the schools of architecture, art and design at the former Edinburgh College of Art and the schools of architecture, history of art and music at the University in 2011. It seems apposite, as spring starts to send out early shoots over the Meadows, to re-boot this blog with some of the good news.

In the company of key New York-based arts alumni, partners and Sir Tim O’Shea, the University’s Principal, I was able to demonstrate how the school has grown to become one of the largest arts schools in Europe, with the broadest range of disciplinary specialisms. Its vibrancy is reflected in the figures: 2,500 students in 2011, 3,000 students in 2015; and an equivalent growth in staff (160 Academics in 2011, 200 in 2015); excellent results in the 2014 Research Excellence Framework, where 100% of our research environment was judged to be world leading or internationally excellent, and we ranked first in Scotland for the quality of our research in architecture, art, design and history of art, and 10th in the UK for Music. We also scored consistently highly for the impact our research makes in society and culture at large. Our research income generated through external grant applications more than doubles every year. And most importantly our profile across all fields has become truly international – a 67% increase in international students in five years. There is so much to build on.

Experimentation, exploration, stimulation and collaboration define our ethos and we look forward to a future where our open and participative community is rightly recognized as a world-leading forum, where innovative, cross-disciplinary work thrives. That vision has already generated a number of new initiatives at ECA, including the launch of a range of programmes and partnerships in Design Informatics, in Material and Digital Practice, and in Curatorial and Collections-based research. We’ve seen the introduction of an ambitious undergraduate collaboration in fashion and interior design with Donghua University in Shanghai, and are looking forward to developing new postgraduate programmes in Landscape and Wellbeing, Art and Science, Art and Anthropology, New Scenographies, and Cultural Entrepreneurship which build on cross-University and inter-institutional collaborations. This has all been made possible by our positioning in the University of Edinburgh and ability to work across the Humanities, Sciences and Social Sciences, and our unique place in the City of Edinburgh where we enjoy ever closer relationships with the Edinburgh International Festival, the Fringe, the Art, Film and Science Festivals, the National Museums of Scotland, the National Galleries, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and a range of contemporary art galleries.

As I explained to our dinner guests, the key to further growth and innovation is to bring that distinctive Edinburgh offer into closer alignment with our international networks, our celebrated alumni and our institutional partners. We have many of those in New York and other US cities and we need to make that footprint more proactive and visible. Before I got on the plane to New York I had asked my colleagues to provide me with some inspiring examples of ECA:NYC links, and I was, as ever, overwhelmed with their responses. These included exploring jazz improvisation as a creative model with legends and University of Edinburgh honoraries George Lewis and Evan Parker; the curation of next year’s Seurat show at the Met, the acquisition of staff and graduate work in the collections at MOMA (Geoff Mann) and the Guggenheim (Katie Patterson); the final stage shortlisting of an architectural proposal for the re-design of 42nd Street in the competition Vision 42; recently curated historical shows at the Frick and the Neue Galerie; and an ever-growing ECA alumni community working, teaching and practicing across New York’s art, design and performance industries.

So, over coffee I asked our guests, how can you help Edinburgh College of Art secure its place as a world leader, carving out a cross-disciplinary legacy that’s as influential as the Bauhaus or Black Mountain College? The shared expertise across the table offered many insights, ranging through graduate skills, the nature of creative knowledge, supporting cultural synergies, anticipating technological and cultural change, respecting and understanding the past, and thinking locally and globally. If we can translate that passion into further action then the next five years look set to deliver an exciting future.

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