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Article by Kaz Russell-Graham | 6th June 2019

Gulbenkian at 50!

The Gulbenkian was ‘forged’ during a time when conventions were questioned and traditions challenged. The Vietnam War raged and Woodstock raved. Even the Paris student rebellion was fresh in the mind. Young people believed they could change the world, and the University of Kent was a hotbed of radical action, using creative thinking to find answers to society’s problems.

Fifty years on, Gulbenkian remains committed to getting young people’s voices heard. With initiatives like ART31, it provides precious opportunities for them to experiment, discover and create… and maybe even change the world.

Canterbury INDEX caught up with Oliver Carruthers, who a year ago became the Gulbenkian’s first director.

Describe your role?

“I run the whole organisation – the artistic work and the business. Also, connecting with the university: giving students opportunities to put on shows, or shadow our team. How we engage with young people, families and children is at the core of what we do.”

What stands out this year?

“bOing! Festival was a huge highlight. The work we present can be political and experimental. I saw families engaging with quite challenging work, and that you don’t have to dumb things down for young people; in many ways they are more open than grown ups!”

What’s Gulbenkian ethos now?

“In 2019, we are open to all; definitely not just an arts centre for people who work and study at the university. Parking is free evenings and weekends, we have the theatre, but also the cinema and cafe, where we’ve added staging and started new programming. Having two Canterbury theatres is not a new issue. However, both want to work collaboratively, each being successful builds the ‘arts offer’ of the whole area.

“If there’s a DNA that runs through Gulbenkian, it’s about giving young people opportunities and meaningful input – be that ART31, putting on shows, shadow-working, or even being on the board helping to choose and commission work. We are working with KCC to provide guidance of best practice in working with young people.

“Our younger members belong to ARTY31. At bOing!, they created a film and performance, hosted and curated: much more rewarding than buying a show and booking it in. We’ve a young woman who has progressed to join the board of directors. We’re making a difference at every level – it’s what makes Gulbenkian stand out.”

Will Gulbenkian be here in 50 years?

“It may look different! New technologies will evolve, but there will always be creativity and young people, and the world will always need changing. Arts and creativity are vital in developing empathy and understanding. What a university arts centre can do that others can’t, is tap into and connect to the ideas, and how can we change the world to make it a better place.”

Are you enjoying it?

“Definitely. I’ve been lucky enough to make my mark by introducing more music. I’ve got a fabulous team, and seen how academics’ research can connect to creativity. You don’t have to be an artist to use creativity in your life!"

Did you know?

• £35K was granted by the Gulbenkian Foundation, an arts foundation set up by an illustrious British family with Armenian roots.
• The total cost of the building was £53K – the balance provided by the University’s Foundation Fund.

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