Oxford2050: What should Oxford’s culture and leisure activities look like in 2050?

Published: Monday, 4th December 2017

The way we interact with culture and leisure activities could look very different in 2050.

Augmented reality and artificial intelligence could add virtual interactions to museums, galleries, sports events and festivals – and virtual reality could mean that they are experienced from home.

Over the last month Oxford City Council has been asking residents and businesses for their views on how they think Oxford should look in 2050. This week, the City Council will be asking for views on culture and leisure.

In 33 years’ time, people could have more free time to experience culture and leisure activities as robots take over household chores such as cleaning or ironing. Perhaps we will move to a four-day working week.

This could lead to even more weight being placed on cultural and leisure activities – both in terms of funding and visitor numbers – and new technologies, such as space tourism, could see new cultural and leisure offers, and, perhaps, Oxford becoming a 24-hour city.

Today Oxford receives nearly seven million visitors every year, and, with the newly-opened Westgate shopping centre bringing new shops, restaurants and leisure venues to the city, this number is expected to increase over the coming years.

Oxford has a long tradition of hosting a wide range of cultural events, with the May Morning festivities dating back over 500 years. Now the city is home to hundreds of events, with the City Council alone helping to fund or organise more than 300 every year – ranging from the Cowley Road Carnival and St Giles’ Fair to the Christmas Light Festival and Common People Oxford.

And the city is also home to world-famous venues – from the Ashmolean Museum, the Museum of Natural History, Modern Art Oxford and the Sheldonian Theatre to South Park and Broad Street. – alongside more community-orientated spaces such as Pegasus Theatre.

Oxford – once described by poet Matthew Arnold as “this sweet city with her dreaming spires” – has inspired the arts over generations and has been the home or inspiration to authors including JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, Lewis Carol, Colin Dexter and Philip Pullman.

The city is also well-known for sport. Alumni of the University of Oxford have won 158 Olympic medals, the first ever rugby club was founded in the city, and, in 1954, Sir Roger Bannister ran the first sub-four minute mile in Oxford. Today, the city is home to scores of sports teams, including Oxford United.

But how will Oxford retain its place as the inspiration of some of the world’s most creative people in 33 years’ time, and what kind of cultural and leisure activities would Oxford residents and businesses like to see in the city in 2050? Those are the questions that Oxford City Council will be asking residents and businesses this week as part of its Oxford2050 consultation.

Each week during the consultation, which launched last month, people will be asked for their views on an aspect of life in the city, ranging from transport and housing, to the economy and culture.

The aim of the consultation is to gather views so that the City Council can create a single document that sets out the city’s aspiration for the future – and provides a single goal that, together, every can work towards.

For more information, and to take part in the consultation, residents and businesses in Oxford can visit: www.oxford2050.com.

Professor Anne Trefethen, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Academic Resources and Information Systems) at the University of Oxford, said: “We are extremely fortunate to have some of the world’s leading collections in Oxford, located across our museums, libraries and gardens. By 2050 greater digital capability will not only provide an even richer experience for our visitors but also enable people across the world to engage with the collections. This in turn will generate new understanding and forge new collaborations, inspiring creativity in many different forms.”

Professor Paul Smith, Director of Oxford University Museum of Natural History and Chair of Oxford University Museums Partnership, said: “The gardens, libraries and museums of the University of Oxford already receive over three million visitors a year.  Together with other cultural venues across Oxford this represents a level of cultural provision and participation that far exceeds most other cities of this size. The challenge now is to build on this firm foundation and consider what the ambitions and aspirations are for the development of culture in Oxford in coming decades.”

Paul Hobson, Director of Modern Art Oxford, said: “By 20150, an increasing number of artists will be exploring and affecting all aspects of our daily environment in the most exciting and innovative ways possible. New platforms and spaces, both physical and virtual, for engaging with and making art will evolve alongside conventional galleries and museums. How a city like Oxford, with its world-renowned cityscape, responds to these opportunities will be key to driving the cultural offer, economy and tourism to the city.

“Artists will have moved beyond conventional art spaces, using new technologies and social media to reach new audiences with new forms of art. It is likely that these will be highly interactive, designed for specific contexts and audiences, and very user-responsive, enabling new forms of participation and creativity. The idea of the artist will broaden to embrace other producers and consumers, which is very exciting in a city with Oxford’s intellectual and technological assets.  

“This rich dialogue between artists and audiences has already begun and will have become very developed and sophisticated by 2050, allowing art and culture to play a far bigger role in all people’s lives in Oxford, and enabling each of us to live life with greater imagination.” 

Louise Chantal, Director/CEO at Oxford Playhouse, said: “Theatre is the quickest and most responsive of the performing arts, able to react to ideas and experiences with the immediacy of live performance. We don't know, and shouldn’t know, what theatre in 2050 will look like. We do know, however, online and digital technology will enable huge changes in the distribution and reach of live performance, making cross-genre and international collaborations far more likely. The challenge will be to take the very best of Oxford to the world.”

Peter McQuitty, Oxford City Council’s Head of Culture, said: “Oxford’s cultural offer is already rich, vibrant and engages with extremely large numbers of people across a wide range of art forms.. Over the coming years and decades, cultural diversity will become much more pronounced as new and emerging communities share more of the richness of their own cultural heritages with the rest of the city. Oxford in 2050 will have a cultural landscape which more accurately reflects the rich ethnic and cultural diversity of the city than is currently the case.”