This weekend I gave a full day’s presentation in Cambridge at Girton College, for the Eastern Region Textile Forum on “Passive Income for Artists”. It was a wonderful venue and truly inspiring location, with an enthusiastic and attentive audience of fellow textiles people.
It was the first time I have ever visited Cambridge, and I went a day early to visit the Scott Polar Institute, an unusual museum focussed entirely on the two polar regions. This was fascinating, and I came away with a few photos, an iconic image of an ice cave, some ideas for developing work, and a tasty book – Jennifer Murray’s Polar First. The museum is long-listed for The Art Fund Prize for this year, and it certainly gets my vote. Please support their bid for funding. They’ve done a lovely job with their museum and deserve the support.
After that, I walked round to the Fitzwilliam Museum & Art Gallery. What a place!! The architecture drew me more than the art work, but that’s just me! I love the intricate plasterwork, and the lofty proportions of some of the rooms, with their marbled columns, and large overhead rooflights. I have to admit to laughing out loud when I walked into the main entrance hall. Talk about over-ornamentation!! OK, so Fitzwilliam was a show-off!! LOL At the very least, he liked to make an impression!
I wandered around all the galleries, quite quickly, because I find myself getting ‘galleried’ out quite quickly, so I only looked closely at items that grabbed my attention. Entrance to both museums is free and certainly I could have returned over several trips to do the Fitzwilliam justice! A lovely tea room topped it off for me, and the blazing summer sunshine on a spring day certainly helped to raise the spirits!
After that, I allowed myself to get deliberately lost…. Wandering through the streets of Cambridge was like walking back into a different time. This city, compact and self-aware, isn’t full of frenetic people. Yes, there are every day folk, but there are so many people on bikes, pedalling through the town, lots of people who look as if they would be far happier in a dusty library than out in the sunshine on their way to a college, and of course, lots of tourists, like me, stopping to gaze at the incredible architecture of the historic colleges, set in their spacious quadrangles with blossoming cherry and almond trees, and with gateways with tantalising views of ancient buildings of learning signposted ‘Members Only’.
You couldn’t help feeling a little bit of an outsider, wanting to be in the ‘in’ crowd, to feel part of this other world. At the same time, I got the feeling that this is a bubble – a privilege to be part of – but oh, could I stand to be in a permanent bubble? It felt somehow detached from the real world. I can imagine that to be a student here would be an incredible and enriching experience that would shape how you think and act, and certainly influence you for your entire life, but to be an academic here would be perhaps to lose touch with reality a little…
I could, of course, be totally wrong! This was just an impression. But it makes you reflect on your own education – the surroundings, the people you were with, what you took from that. I am so glad I have been to Cambridge. It is well worth the visit….