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strong foundations

15 Sep 23 | The Stephen A. Schwarzman Centre

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 

15 Sep 23

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