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Spoken word poetry, song and parkour performances took place on and around the building site for the Stephen A. Schwarzman Centre for the Humanities on 19 September, as Oxford University held a foundation ceremony to mark two years until the building is completed.

Trumpeter Aaron Akugbo (pictured above) made history as he became the first performer to play live music in the space that will be the concert hall.

The Centre will boost research and teaching in the humanities at Oxford University and provide them with a new home which brings together seven faculties, the Institute for Ethics in AI, the Oxford Internet Institute, and a new humanities library. It has been made possible by a gift from Stephen A. Schwarzman, who is the Chairman, CEO and Co-Founder of Blackstone, one of the world’s leading investment firms.

The ceremony was held on the site to reflect construction reaching its lowest point, or “bottoming out”. In the coming months, the building will start to rise upwards it until it is finished in summer 2025. To date, construction has involved over 10,000 linear metres of piles to build the foundations – taller than Mount Everest when stacked end-to-end.

Attendees included Oxford residents, local and regional cultural partners, and University staff. They were treated to performances by talented Oxfordshire-based groups. The performances were produced and promoted by the Cultural Programme, which puts on a diverse series of live and online events, working with cultural partners, performers and researchers.

Professor Dan Grimley, Head of Humanities at Oxford University, said: “I am delighted that we have marked the next stage in the construction of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Centre for the Humanities, which remains on track to open in 2025. The Foundation Ceremony was marked with some brilliant performances, which reflects the exciting cultural programming that will enliven the new building, for the benefit of everyone living in and around Oxford.”

Cultural Programme launches brand, website and new season

When the building is completed, many of its venues will be brought to life by performances from the Cultural Programme, which is part of the Humanities Division at the University of Oxford. The Programme is already working with outstanding artists, writers and thinkers from around the world to create and present world-class arts and culture. It aims to welcome audiences and communities into the heart of the research process at Oxford University through public engagement.

At the Ceremony, the Cultural Programme launched its new look and a vision to bring together audiences from across the city, region and world. It announced:

·Everything is Connected, a programme of environmentally-focused events and performances in October and November 2023.

·A new website and brand as part of a campaign called “Oxford Is” which aims to place the Cultural Programme at the heart of the University and wider city of Oxford. You can explore all of the above HERE.

The Everything is Connected programme takes inspiration from the idea that everything is connected in the human and natural world. This rich and varied series of conversations and events will be open to all, taking place in multiple locations across the City of Oxford and online.

As part of the season, residents and visitors in Oxford will be invited to experience the air of five major cities in Michael Pinsky’s Pollution Pods art installation. This aims to raise awareness about the impact of air pollution on human health and has been supported by St John’s College and Oxford University’s Environmental Sustainability Team.

Another highlight will be Tell it to the Birds by Jenny Kendler. This sound art project, which will be installed at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, asks visitors to confess a secret into a lichen-scented hemisphere, which will then be digitally ‘translated’ into bird song for all to hear (without understanding its meaning).

John Fulljames, Director of the Cultural Programme at Oxford University, said: “Everything is Connected is all about bringing people together for shared experiences. Oxford has such a rich cultural life and, by launching this season and our new website, we want to provide a platform to showcase and uplift all that our cultural partners have to offer. We hope as many people as possible will join us to enjoy this wonderfully diverse programme in October and November, and that they continue to engage and partner with us as we move towards the opening of the state-of-the-art venues in the Schwarzman Centre.”

The environmental theme connects back to the Schwarzman Centre building, which has been designed sustainably in keeping with the University’s commitment to reduce its environmental impact. The site is being powered entirely by electricity and recycled vegetable oil, and the building will have heat pumps, high levels of insulation, and promote of biodiversity through green spaces. Built to Passivhaus standards, it is envisaged that the project will set the standard expected in years to come for new developments.

Image credit: Cyrus Mower @cyrusoxford 

Everything is Connected takes inspiration from the idea that everything is connected in the human and natural world. This rich and varied series of conversations and events is taking place in multiple locations across the City of Oxford and online.

At the heart of the programme are four interconnected themes:


At nature’s extraordinary systems and places.

Be aware

Of our mark on the natural world.


The stories we tell ourselves about the past and the present.


And share the stories that will help us to live in the future

The packed season includes Michael Pinsky’s Pollution Pods, an innovative installation raising awareness about air pollution and its impact on our health.    

The Pods arrive on the front quad of St John’s College from Sat 21 October to Sat 5th November.   This powerful and immersive artwork, seen worldwide, raises important and pertinent questions about our climate and has been at the centre of continued calls for action over climate change at the UN Climate Action Summit.  Made up of five geodesic domes, each pod represents a specific location, recreating the distinctive atmospheres in highly polluted areas like Beijing, London, São Paulo, and New Delhi. Entry to the Pods is free.   

As we prepare for the opening of the new Schwarzman Centre, the Cultural Programme team are producing a series of live and online events, bringing leading performers and artists to Oxford. Partners and local communities from across the city and region are already involved in contributing to this new programme which is inspired by Oxford research.  We look forward to welcoming audiences to what promises to be a provocative and enjoyable season.

John Fulljames


Other partnerships in the programme include:  

Natural dye workshops and Ethical Fashion ‘in conversation’ as part of the Ashmolean Museum World in Colour Season.

Family workshops and commissioning three new stories in collaboration with The Story Museum. Throughout 2023-2024, The Story Museum is running a year-long season entitled Stories to Save the World exploring positive climate action through a story-based experience.

Tell it to the Birds at Oxford University Museum of Natural History is a distinctive sound art installation by interdisciplinary ecological artist and environmental activist Jenny Kendler. It encapsulates the theme of human-nature interconnectivity, offering an immersive experience that highlights environmental awareness and sustainable living.

A significant new exhibition of Swedish artist, activist, writer, and eco-feminist Monica Sjöö the first institutional solo presentation on Sjöö’s work exploring the artist’s deep engagement with artistic, political, and eco-feminist practice that chimes with many challenges today at Modern Art Oxford.

The Museum on Climate Hope. The new digital trail through Oxford University’s Gardens, Libraries and Museums (GLAM) highlights positive steps in addressing climate change.

Walk among the trees and experience great music, conversation and closeness to the healing power of nature with Songpath, part of Oxford International National Song Festival at Harcourt Arboretum. 

St John’s College is committed to supporting our local community. We are proud to work in partnership with many local organisations, including the Oxford Playhouse, Oxford Preservation Trust, and local primary schools. St John’s is delighted to be supporting the pollution pods as part of the ‘Everything is Connected’ programme this autumn. We look forward to welcoming visitors to experience Michael Pinsky’s Pollution Pods in our front quad and to raising awareness of the impact of air pollution on health.

Professor Dame Sue Black

DBE, OBE, FRS President, St John’s College

Woven into the programme is a series of ‘in conversations’ with artists, environmentalists, academics and activists who will discuss artworks, exhibitions and ideas around the Everything is Connected theme. Each conversation will be joined by a poet who will share a new piece of work inspired by the conversation.

Echoing the theme of the programme, we are working hard to ensure our events are environmentally friendly, ethical, and globally conscious. We have endeavoured to create a diverse programme that provokes debate and builds relationships to help us all on our sustainable journey.

As the season draws to a close, a gathering will bring artists, scientists, academics, students, and city voices together to sow the seeds for future collaborations.

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