Back in 2009, I oversaw marketing at Brighton and Sussex Medical School (BSMS), and was thinking about how we could raise our profile. One afternoon I met Cara Courage, an inspirational arts practitioner who asked me if we wanted to be involved in a project called the Creative Campus Initiative, delivering innovative community art projects as part of the Cultural Olympiad for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. She asked me what we could offer: “We’re a medical school… “I said, a silence filled the air for a moment, “…”but we do have an MRI scanner… and a student who is a prospective Triathlon candidate.” Somehow the conversation ended with “Perhaps we could scan them and see how their toned bodies look”.
Little did I know that this would be the first step in a journey into the unknown. I learnt so many new things: to curate exhibitions, to promote and arrange tours, to wrestle with paperwork and ethics committees to get humans in physical perfection to be placed under an MRI scanner for art as much as education.
The project snowballed. There was a very tight timescale, all achieved in three months, on top of my usual challenging workload. Working with a local photographer, James Lewis, we profiled prospective athletes as they trained and under MRI. This included multi-gold medallist paralympic cyclist Darren Kenny. Also while James snapped and I watched, weightlifter Halil Zorba lifted weights equal to the British record in his class!
I had an ambitious six-month tour of local hospitals and education venues in 2010. We had a fantastic interactive launch Fringe event, delivered with aplomb with the inspirational Professor of Anatomy Darrell Evans and Chelsea School sports science specialist Dr Gary Brickley. We gained BBC news coverage on South Today. As a result, we were awarded an Inspired by 2012 Marque for our significant contribution to the Cultural Olympiad. In 2012, we produced a new exhibition, which had a seven-week residency at the Jubilee Library through both Games, giving BSMS unprecedented consistent profile in the community.
The impact of this was a game-changer in BSMS seeing what it could do in terms of community. In 2014, just before I left, it pitched a medical discussion panel event to the Brighton Festival in 2014, which I am glad to see is now a regular fixture. The exhibition changed even the way we designed our prospectus cover, with Todd Leckie recreating his poster image for our 2012 prospectus. This publication itself won a HEIST Higher Education Marketing Award in 2012, as applications rose that year by 15%.
What did I learn from this project? That sometimes you have to break the mould and do something different. Plans and strategies are great, but sometimes an unexpected opportunity is worth taking a leap of faith for. It was hard work, it was at sometimes worryingly tense, but then any leap into the unknown is. For me, it was one of the best projects I have ever done.