Our new online exhibition curated by young people: Exploring Gulbenkian’s Heritage

ART31 and Gulbenkian youth groups were part of the 50th anniversary celebrations through the ‘Radical Roots and Dangerous Ideas’ project, supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. Young people explored the University of Kent Special Collections & Archives to piece together Gulbenkian’s stories and create responses to the social and political happenings of 1969. They raised important questions about the value of artistic risk and young people’s empowerment to change the world in the past and today.

An exhibition was created by ART31 for the Radical Roots Festival at the Gulbenkian on 15th June, 2019. It was then shown at The Beaney House of Art and Knowledge, and is currently on show at the University of Kent Library exhibition space. New oral history interviews were recorded and edited by the youth film-making group SCREEN31, offering ‘living history’ experiences from alumni staff and students from the late 1960s – early 70s. This online exhibition offers a selection of material celebrating Gulbenkian’s heritage.

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Campus Culture

Take a glimpse into the student culture that was active in the Gulbenkian and surrounding campus in the 60s and 70s. What do you think inspired the students in 1969?

In 1969 the idea of the ‘teenager’ was still relatively new. The generation that made up the first years of student intakes at the University of Kent were amongst the first to really rebel against the status quo and form their own youth culture.

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Student Protest

Protests have always been integral to change, but what were students at the University of Kent at Canterbury campaigning for in 1969?

UKC students joined global campaigns to end the Vietnam War, for famine relief in Biafra, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), and more. However, it was the protests about how the University was being managed that caused the biggest upsets on campus. Old-fashioned academic customs and ways of treating students that were at odds with students’ feelings of independence and identity so there were bound to be some clashes!

Incant 1970

The archived student union newspapers are a great source of information about student protests.

In 1971 the Cornwallis and Gulbenkian buildings were occupied by some students for two weeks over a dispute relating to access to their University records. It was rumoured that secret files documenting the political activity of students were being kept by the University.

The students were appeased by being able to view their files, however it showed the mistrust between the students  and the University management – who then attempted to extract compensation for damages from the Student Union.

... the debate centres around the need for a different relationship between students and authority. Incant March 1970
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An Explosive First Night

Inspired by student protests, The Exploding Dream, written by Richard Drain, was the first play to be put on at the Gulbenkian and marked the theatre’s opening in 1969. It was a pivotal moment in the Gulbenkian’s history and demonstrated radicalism in form and content.

The Exploding Dream, first production

Mike Lucas directed The Exploding Dream with a student cast. He was also the first director of the Gulbenkian. Lucas invited industry professionals and the press from London and beyond.  Many University staff members and Canterbury dignitaries attended Gulbenkian’s debut production, but reviews suggest it was not everyone’s cup of tea.

Revolution is the dream of our day; a dream that of its nature is liable to explode into reality; or be exploded by reality. Richard Drain, playwright, The Exploding Dream
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SCREEN31 Oral Histories

Gulbenkian’s youth filmmaking group SCREEN31 interviewed former staff and students who were at the University of Kent between 1969-1975. Working or studying at a newly established University in the context of broader social upheaval was exciting and sometimes dangerous!

These excerpts are a small part of the full oral histories which have been added to University of Kent Special Collections & Archives.

Gulbenkian would like to thank the interviewees  who generously gave their time and stories: Sonia Copeland Bloom, John Butler, Gerald Cramp, Angela Doughty, Johnny Fewings, Anna Gilbert, Tricia and Tim Harrison, Mike Irwin, Linda Keen, and John Todd.


See more about the Radical Roots and Dangerous Ideas project below with our wrap up film made by Spark Films.

Thankyou to our sponsors and partners

ART31

ART31 takes its name from Article 31 of the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child, which states that ‘Children have the right to relax and play, and to join in a wide range of cultural, artistic and other recreational activities’.

ART31 is a vision created with, by, and for young people in Kent, championing the belief that all children and young people have an entitlement to access high quality arts and culture, to empower them to achieve their creative potential, and to genuinely engage young people as equal partners in any decision making that affects them.

The ART31 Youth Board is made up of young people from across Kent aged 13-25 who steer its governance, and influence policy and practice across the county and beyond, challenging the creative sector to examine existing ways of working and integrate young people into the core of their practice.

Our projects with young people