Bringing together and building partnerships between Higher Education and the Cultural Sector across the Midlands

On Translations at Nottingham Contemporary, Feb 2018. Photo: Sam Kirby

The Midlands Higher Education & Culture Forum is a dynamic network bringing together and building partnerships between Higher Education and the Cultural Sector across the Midlands. We aim to make a significant impact on the way we view research in a cultural context both regionally and nationally, providing a cohesive view of the landscape in order to advocate effectively.


In 2018-19, our forum comprised working groups focused on themed priorities developed out of conversations at our launch conference in late 2017 at Nottingham Contemporary. This convened 150 people from Higher Education and Cultural Sectors to identify shared strategic challenges and issues. It allowed us to examine how we might collectively address them and explored where we can more effectively collaborate and provide mutual benefit to enable a stronger voice for our sectors in the Midlands and influence policy and to develop a space that enables a single joined up conversation. Throughout the summer and autumn of 2018, our working groups delivered a series of informal events and a second conference, Mapping the Midlands, which took place in Coventry in 2019.

Our steering group from 2018-19 was chaired by Sam Thorne, director of Nottingham Contemporary and comprised Rebecca Blackman, Director Midlands (Birmingham) of Arts Council England; Mark Done, Senior Relationship Manager, Midlands at Arts Council England; Michaela Butter, MBE, Director of Attenborough Arts in Leicester; Eleonora Belfiore, Professor of Communication & Media Studies at Loughborough University; Doris Eikhof, Deputy Director of CAMEo Research Centre at the University of Leicester and Paula Serafini, Research Associate at CAMEo Research Centre at the University of Leicester plus members of the current executive group. Previous members remain critical friends to the project and continue to provide consultation and advice.

Geoff Willcocks (Chair)

Director of Arts and Culture, Coventry University

Geoff is Director of Arts and Culture at Coventry University. He is also the Chair of Coventry's Music Education Hub and the Chair of Music Coventry. Geoff has also advised Arts Council England on the role of Higher Education in UK Culture, is a member of the Advisory Board for Ludicrooms, the CU Social Enterprise Advisory board and is a member of the Executive Committee for Coventry's 2021 City of Culture Bid. Geoff co-directs the Placemaking working group for the Forum.

Jennie Syson

Forum Coordinator, CAMPUS Convenor at Nottingham Contemporary

Jennie is an independent curator, artist and writer who currently works within the Public Programmes team at Nottingham Contemporary as the Convenor of CAMPUS, a year-long and city-wide independent study programme in curatorial, visual and cultural studies, based on collaborative knowledge production and innovative research practices. Previous roles include director of Syson Gallery in Nottingham from 2013-18; Coordinating the British Art Show 7 Fringe and curator of Hinterland: Projects on the River Trent from 2006-10. Jennie has also worked as a public art consultant for Contemporary Art Society, UKYA and various independent projects.

Carolina Rito

Professor of Creative Practice Research at Coventry University

Carolina is Professor of Creative Practice Research at the Research Centre for Arts, Memory and Community at Coventry University. She is also Research Fellow in the Institute for Contemporary History at Nova University of Lisbon (Portugal). From 2017-19 she was the Head of Public Programmes and Research at Nottingham Contemporary. Since 2010, she has been teaching in Higher Education in the UK (Goldsmiths) and abroad in Visual Cultures and Curatorial Studies. She is a researcher and curator with a PhD in Curatorial/Knowledge in the Visual Cultures Department at Goldsmiths University of London. Carolina directs the Collaborative Research working group for the Forum.

Jacqui O'Hanlon

Director of Education at the Royal Shakespeare Company

Jacqui joined the RSC in 2003 and has been Director of Education since 2008. Jacqui established the RSC’s Learning and Performance Network and initiated the company’s Schools’ Broadcast series which has reached 120,000 young people to date. She leads on developing strategic education partnerships with broadcasters, universities and theatres nationally and internationally. Jacqui directs the Cultural Education working group for the forum.