With a very diverse background that ranges from creativity to the scientific, proud Welshman, Prof Brian Clarke, is bringing a vast wealth of knowledge and experience to the Division of Culture and Creativity (DCC).

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Starting from 1 September 2018, Prof Clarke became the Dean of DCC. He is hoping to bring a balanced approach when developing new ideas. He says being a musician as well as a scientist offers him a real balance.

“Being a musician allows me to sort of stand back from the academic side. Just being outside the box in a sense helps give another perspective”. He went on to explain that “With the academic role, sometimes the pressure gets to you. I like to ‘switch off’ and I will go and play in the quartet. All of a sudden, the issues that are problematic can often be resolved more easily after stepping back. Balance is an important thing.”

Prof Clarke knows that his scientific background may raise eyebrows now that he is the Dean within a liberal arts university. He explains, however, that throughout his working life, he has seen the importance of a liberal arts education.

He then went into further detail about how he has been involved with universities throughout his career and can see the different way of thinking that a scientist and an artist may have.

“I tend to be a bit more analytical and therefore, the transferrable skill into liberal arts is an important one because liberal arts people tend to think in one way, and scientists tend to think in another way.”

Possessing a rich background in academia, including roles at Neath College, Merthyr Tydfil College and University of Wales Trinity Saint David in the UK, Prof Clarke also has experience in Asia, having worked at Vocational Training Council Hong Kong and International University Malaya-Wales.

He hopes to bring his previous experience of universities to UIC, with plans to listen to the ideas of his division, before then assessing which are feasible, then implementing a corporate, divisional plan.

Prof Clarke is not afraid of failure and admits “If we try ten things and three work, then I’m happy.” Before adding, “If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. I’m not going to come down on you like a ton of bricks. All I want is people to try new things. So that’s one of the things I want to instil in the staff here, by giving them the confidence and support so I can lead the division forward in a way they would like.”

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Prof Clarke mentions how he would like to influence the students by telling them that they have to be a bit hard-edged in terms of their careers.

“It’s all great being liberal, but in the end, somebody’s got to pay the bills”.

It’s clear Prof Clarke wants the students to focus on the vocational side and not to expect opportunities and money to just come to them.

“You are going to have to work for it and make whatever progress they have into their personal skills, a commodity because that’s the practicalities of life.” However, that doesn’t mean he thinks being a musician is not a real job.

“If you’ve got the talent and it’s marketable and you work at it, it doesn’t matter if you just play the fiddle, you can make a fantastic career out of it. I feel very strongly that you’ve got to focus and then go for it.”

Regarding multicultural exchanges, Prof Clarke thinks the sky’s the limit, “Asian students are far more aware of Western culture than Western students are of Asian culture. The challenge I have is to get those Western students over to Asia to get experience”.

He then details how he encourages Asian students to go to the UK, and how he tried to get UK students to come to Asia as part of an exchange, stressing the importance of being aware of the cultural differences, and to get to experience other cultures.

“I wish our Western students would participate in Asian culture a bit more.”

Prof Clarke thinks setting strategic development is the number one plan when it comes to DCC development.

“What I would like to see develop is content, for example, in programmes that are not that strong relook at the academic content and adjust it so it’s more applicable to our students and their careers. It is very important to make content with application”.

He gave an example of seeing the new opera house in Zhuhai as an ideal opportunity for UIC students to get employment and perhaps influence the events in the Zhuhai Grand Theatre.

Prof Clarke understands that cities in China have invested huge amounts of money in concert halls and that UIC music students would be ideal employees for that environment as all concert halls have not only music, but they have theatre, art, and exhibitions.

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Connecting with the wider society and community for potential internships or cooperation is another idea that he expressed an interest in.

Music is all about social interaction, whether playing in a quartet or playing in an orchestra and Prof Clarke wants to give the students more opportunities.

“Engagement is a very important element; nonverbal communication is often a skill which students very often lack; they haven’t developed that awareness of playing together and making things happen, absolutely with high precision.

“It’s a skill that needs developing over time. It’s influencing the way we structure experience outside the academic fold and obviously we have students in the university who are musicians, but we need to provide a service for them. Involve them in the process and involve them in university life”.

He finishes by explaining how he wants to give the students high expectations of themselves.

Reporters: Samuel Burgess, Marissa Furney
Photographer: Deen He
Editors: Deen He, Étienne Fermie
(from MPRO)