Opera North Projects Director Dominic Gray advocates for the dynamism and potency of collaboration in the arts and education when looking to solve the world’s problems.

The world is looking to politics and to science to solve its major problems – homeland security, climate change, immigration, globalisation, pandemics… the list goes on. Meanwhile, the place of the arts, culture, philosophy and ‘play’ has been relegated toward entertainment – valuable certainly, but mostly valued as a pastime, an escape, or to remind us of things we used to engage with before we got too busy, or the problems got too hard.

Culture Forum North challenges this. Our partnerships between leading research centres and cultural organisations are curious about how knowledge, experience and imagination can come together, and empower each other, toward addressing shared questions. We think that being open to conversation between individuals, disciplines and sectors, might be a better way forward than sealing ourselves in separate envelopes.

In the world of opera we are very aware that collaboration is a dynamic and potent force. Our art form relies on it, but even more than that, opera itself was born out of conversations between scientists, humanists, artists and musicians in the early 17th century. In the modern era we are inspired by collaborations such as the Bell Laboratories experiments of the 1960s, where leading contemporary artists worked alongside scientists and engineers to explore the possibilities of video projection, Doppler sonar and wireless sound transmission. The performances and installations they created pointed to a future where artistic practice and research could push each other into new territories.

The Wellcome Collection recently presented composer Max Richter’s SLEEP project – an eight hour lullaby written by Richter in collaboration with the neuroscientist David Eagleman. It was broadcast on Radio 3 as part of their series entitled, Why Music? – a question that in its essence demands dialogue, sharing of ideas and experimentation. Meanwhile, the artist Louise Wilson recently completed her ‘Warnscale’ project, exploring the emotional terrain of childlessness, an exploration Louise carried out with Dr Celia Roberts (Sociology) from Lancaster University.

These collaborations and many more are happening all around us. Culture Forum North gives them something of a shared home, a place to reflect on what has already happened as well as to ignite new sparks of imagination and thought.