Cambridge is a dynamic city of contrasts. Historically it’s been a place of great traditions: a regional market centre with one of the oldest and most acclaimed universities in the world. Now, it’s at the forefront of urban change: home to a cutting edge science and technology sector with the potential to set many agendas for 21st century living. The city’s mainstream cultural provision of theatres, museums and art galleries is well established, much of it closely linked to the university. But at the same time, the region is at the centre of a rapidly expanding population – Cambridge is now embracing the need for new links, partnerships and crossovers to position its future social and cultural offer.
Cambridge University, which celebrated its eighth hundredth anniversary in 2012 and counts Samuel Pepys, the Darwin’s and Anthony Caro among its past students, continues to be a major cultural shaper in the city. Much of Cambridge’s high profile hi-tech science sector has developed from university research. The city has the highest growth per capita of start-up enterprise in the country, and it’s growing. Collaborations between big success stories such as Astra Zene ca and ARM, the university and small start-ups are fuelling an environment for the next big ideas to come forward.
Today the population of Cambridge is estimated to be around 125,000, though this looks set to rise rapidly with the establishment of new growth centres around the city. Town and gown have not always co-existed comfortably but the old ‘disconnect’ is breaking down. This is due, at least in part, to the rise of virtual and interactive media and communications, and to environments like the science park becoming drivers for lifestyle change. Student demand for the provision of cycle tracks and better public transport has fed into improvements across the public realm, while the science park has created shared civic space, with health clubs, cafes and crèches.
The cultural life of the city is a growing mix of the major museums, galleries and performance venues combined with the energy of newer, culturally diverse initiatives across, food, art, technology, green issues, and social debate. Anglia Ruskin University, which was opened as the Cambridge School of Arts in 1858 by John Ruskin, leads the city’s art, design, technology, healthcare and social science training, creating a strong offer of international students developing new approaches and ideas to the city. It now hosts Brains Eden, one of the UK’s biggest digital gaming conferences, and the Global Sustainability Institute, which is leading the way on green ideas policy development. Coupled with its strong creative business development sector, it is a key player in this changing city.
The city’s cultural scene is thriving as established venues and organisations are enriched by an evolving mix of performances, festivals and events. Cambridge has a plethora of museums to reflect its diverse cultural interests. The City Council has put the arts high on the agenda, running large-scale central venues like the Guildhall and the Cambridge Corn Exchange. The Council also runs the world famous Cambridge Folk Festival, and supports many other organizations. These range from Cambridge Junction and the Cambridge Arts Theatre to University facilities like the Fitzwilliam Museum the student ADC Theatre and Kettle’s Yard – a gallery of British and European Modernist art. Innovative theatre companies include Hoipolloi, the Menageries Theatre (which supports new writing in the region) and 30bird. In the field of classical music, Cambridge is home to the Britten Sinfonia chamber ensemble, and other orchestras. Music concerts and recitals take place across the city in churches and college chapels.
Geographically, Cambridge has been well positioned to become home to a number of strategic arts organisations serving the region in recent years. The East of England Development Agency and Arts Council for the region are both based in the city. Other organisations support a range of art forms. Cambridge has a mushrooming festival and events scene. The Cambridge. Open Studios offer visitors the chance to admire the work of local arts and crafts people.
Then there’s the Summer Shakespeare season in the college gardens, the folk festival and the classical Cambridge Summer Music Festival. The Cambridge Music Festival, held every three years, celebrates music and evolution, while the recently established Cambridge Wordfest literary festival has attracted writers such as Will Hutton and Ali Smith. The university holds its own Science Festival, while the Beer Festival, and French and European markets add to city vibrancy.
In all, Cambridge offers a forward thinking, evolving mix of arts and culture, integrated with new urban development across the home and workplace which points the way to an increasingly inclusive and exciting future.