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Poets unite to increase access to great art

  • Date: 4 December 2012
  • Area: South East
Woman speaking

Carol Ann Duffy speaking to guests at the launch of Thresholds, 2012. Credit: Cambridge University's Photostream

A group of top poets are at the centre of a new project which is aimed at inspiring a broader range of people to engage with poetry and University Cambridge Museums.

Thresholds, a poetry based initiative in connection with University Cambridge Museums (UCM), and support from the Arts Council, is set to run between January - March 2013 and will be spearheaded by poet Laureate Carole Ann Duffy - who has also invited ten other poets to contribute. 

Each poet will spend two weeks in residence at one of the museums over the length of the project meeting researchers and staff and exploring the collections. They have each been commissioned to write a poem informed and inspired by the collections and use the material and exhibits at their disposal as an opportunity for significant artistic development.

The Thresholds project demonstrates the quality, ambition and reach of activity to be supported through the University of Cambridge Museums' Connecting Collections programme.

Duffy attended the launch of the project at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge during the University's annual Festival of Ideas. The launch of the project also marked the partnership between the University of Cambridge, Arts Council England, Cambridge City Council and Cambridgeshire County Council. This new partnership aims to enhance the impact of their shared investment in arts, museums and libraries and help develop further their strong cultural offer across Cambridge and the county.

Duffy said: "A poetry project of this size and scale, across so many different, remarkable and beautiful institutions is unheard of. This really is an unprecedented initiative - and very exciting for everyone involved; myself, the poets and the university."

One of the fundamental aims of Thresholds is to engage hard-to-reach individuals and form new connections with those from areas of low cultural engagement. The poets will work with around 150 young people, including pupils from nearby Manor School and Soham Village College, as well as young carers. Thresholds will present hundreds of young people, many of whom may never have set foot inside a museum, with the chance to develop their writing skills. To achieve this, young attendees will work closely with the poets involved who will be able to guide and inspire creative writing.

Andrea Stark, Area Executive Director of Arts Council England, said: "Thresholds is a great project that further highlights the Arts Council's continued support in improving the public's access to great art and culture. In addition, this is also the beginning of an exciting partnership between us, the University of Cambridge, Cambridge City Council and Cambridge County Council which will help develop Cambridge's cultural offer. Our work together will benefit the sector and enrich opportunities for local communities."

Following the completion of Thresholds, an anthology of ten new poems will be published in March 2013. The poems will also be published online and it is hoped the legacies of Thresholds will include poetry becoming a catalyst for the exploration of University collections, as well as the museums becoming portals for writing groups.

It is also hoped that young people engaged in the project will become more confident in their own ability to write such material and feel that they are welcome to visit museums. The introduction of workshops and writing groups will also act as a focal point for people to meet and continue their passion of writing poetry.

For more information about Thresholds, click here

The poets and their places of residency are:

Sean Borodale - Museum of Classical Archaeology;
Gillian Clarke - Museum of Zoology;
Imtiaz Dharker - Cambridge University Library;
Ann Gray - Cambridge University Botanic Garden;
Matthew Hollis - The Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences;
Jackie Kay - Kettle's Yard;
Daljit Nagra - Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology;
Don Paterson - Whipple Museum of the History of Science;
Jo Shapcott - The Polar Museum;
Owen Sheers - The Fitzwilliam Museum.