May 30, 2023

Art, academic research and translation: Warwick Business School EDI Festival 9th November 2022

Art, academic research and translation

On 9 November 2022 Warwick Business School (WBS) the largest department in the University of Warwick, Coventry UK, held its second Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Festival.  The festival was organised by the WBS Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Committee to raise the profile of equality issues engaged with in the School and wider University. There was a variety of events, including a panel discussion called ‘Being Out in the Workplace’ on LGBTQUA+ initiatives within organisations; informal WBS Café sessions with members of the EDI committee; a talk on ‘Breaking Barriers’ from Vanessa Vallely OBE on how she overcame social obstacles in a male-dominated corporate world.

The Women/Theatre/Justice (WTJ) event comprised a presentation of work and organisation findings from the project with Clean Break Theatre Company, set amongst the artwork of the WTJ artist-in-residence, Laura Dean. It took place in what is usually the WBS staff lounge. Once the un:mute exhibition was set up, this mundane space was transformed into something unfamiliar and, as feedback comments revealed later, a space for unexpected emotions.

A mixture of academic and professional services staff from WBS and other university departments came to see the exhibition and the presentation on findings. The project itself is unusual in Business School terms in focusing on Clean Break as a small company working in the theatre and criminal justice sectors. Its inclusion in the Festival was an interruption of the WBS everyday. Perhaps then it wasn’t surprising that the audience discussion after the talk took an unexpected turn. People shared that they had gained a felt insight into the processes of research. Professional services colleagues said they were familiar with the end points - academic journal articles and books - but that they now felt they had an understanding of the journey to get there and that they would like more. The unexpectedness of this turn was a reminder that meaning is always co-creation.    

Some of the emotions expressed were of sadness, shock, gratitude. Many commented on the power of the un:mute images in “making you stop and think”; that they “explained issues you find hard to understand, or in a new light”. One person said it enabled “translation” and that this came through feeling “challenged, uncomfortable – but in a good way”.

Substitute ‘research’ for ‘images’ in the paragraph above and you would have responses that academics in any discipline hope for their work. Working with an artist on this project is helping us find routes to offer ways in - to research, and specifically here, the unique work of Clean Break. Many thanks to the very engaged audience for sharing their responses and helping us in turn understand more about what we’re doing.  

Deborah Dean