When Richard Attenborough filmed his directorial debut Oh! What A Lovely War on Brighton’s West Pier, he found a novel solution to the challenge of casting extras. He appealed for volunteers from the student body at the new University of Sussex, and they came forward in their droves. This impromptu collaboration marked the start of a lifelong friendship between Lord Attenborough and a University which would, eventually, name him as their Chancellor.
With his death in 2014, the decision to name a new creative space on campus in honour of this lifelong patron of the arts seems fitting and poignant. Far from being a tokenistic gesture, the Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts (ACCA) has launched with a mission statement that explicitly defines itself by the values of their late benefactor – human rights, social justice, creative education and universal access to the arts.
Sited in the former Gardner Arts Centre, a Grade II listed structure and part of Sir Basil Spence’s original plan for the Sussex campus, ACCA occupies a prime position between the student union and the library. As well as a 350-seat flexible auditorium, the venue also contains gallery and studio areas, plus a cafe/bar. Creative Director Laura McDermott enthuses that it is “brilliant to have art and artists filling this much-loved building again after so many years. We know how much the building means to people.”
A glance at the programme reveals that, in line with the Attenborough-led manifesto, the centre offers something quite different to other live music or theatre venues on the regular touring circuit. Mercury nominated jazz trio Gogo Penguin recently played. On December 8th and 9th, Sussex drama and performance finalists offer a free performance of ‘Bluets’, an experimental play by Maggie Nelson.
Meanwhile, on December 15th, performance artist Sue MacLaine brings us ‘Can I Start Again Please?’, her self-styled ‘moving sculpture’ – a two-hander on surviving trauma performed in spoken English and British Sign Language. Each ticketed performance offers a limited allocation of ‘pay what you decide’ seats.
This bold opening season promises to be only the start of an ongoing programme of widening participation. With artist residencies, teaching and further community engagement on the ACCA agenda for 2017, this new venue is one to watch.
Cafe/bar open 11am-6pm Monday to Wednesday, 11am-8pm Thursday and Friday
Photos by Briony Campbell