Leeds Conservatoire appoints Interim Principal

By Kath Hartley


Leeds Conservatoire is delighted to announce that it has appointed a new Interim Principal, Professor Joe Wilson. The appointment comes at the cusp of a new era for the conservatoire, which has recently expanded its provision to include drama and performing arts, and changed its name to reflect the increased breadth of training now on offer.

Joe Wilson Pauline Black

Joe Wilson pictured with Leeds Conservatoire Fellow Pauline Black, at Graduation 2018. Image credit: maskofstorrow

Joe’s career incorporates extensive experience within the music and creative industries; not least as a founding member of the band Sneaker Pimps, but as a producer, artist and educator too.

He has spent the last ten years specialising in music education, joining Leeds Conservatoire in 2013 as Associate Director of Curriculum and swiftly becoming Director of Curriculum. Joe became Vice Principal in 2018, and he now takes the reins as the conservatoire’s fifth leader.

Here Joe talks about his career in music, his approach to music education and his plans for the future at this exciting time for Leeds Conservatoire…

Joe trained in BA Fine Art at the University of Reading, specialising in installation work – an experience that was key in shaping his entire approach towards creating art. “The training that I had was about recognising that there is craft and there is art, and that if you can combine the two, you begin to produce something very special,” explains Joe. “This approach has always informed all of my practice.”

It was during his time studying that Joe joined Sneaker Pimps as bassist and guitarist. The ambition to elevate popular music into an art form to be taken seriously was something that they shared collectively as a band; “We were able to combine intellectual critical theories and approaches to music, but at the same time we wanted it to be popular and successful,” says Joe. “That approach of trying to elevate and celebrate popular, contemporary culture was very important to that band, and to the subsequent production work we did with other people. It also meant that we were interested in making music for film, television and for other art projects.”

Throughout Joe’s early career he continued to broaden his creative work, including working on a sound design commission for the Centre for Contemporary Art in Glasgow and becoming part of a movement called Conceptual Clubbing – a concept based on using art spaces for leisure activities, rather than places where participants passively looked at art. He also ran a club night at the Institution of Contemporary Art called Home Taping – an idea based on democratising the dancefloor, which saw high profile figures commissioned alongside members of the public to create mixtapes to be played in the club.

Joe Wilson Sneaker Pimps

Joe Wilson (left) performing with Sneaker Pimps. Image credit: Kristine Slett

By the late 90s, Joe was an active producer and was still touring and performing with Sneaker Pimps, who by then had sold two million records around the world.
Joe moved into music education in 2010, after being recruited to design a Popular Music degree for the University of Gloucestershire, in which Joe embedded his unique approach to education. “I wanted to make sure that it wasn’t just about how well you could play, it was about musicians and performers being able to articulate their place in the world as creators of culture,” says Joe. “They needed to be able to not only create music, but they needed to understand why they were making that music, who the audience was, and the audience’s role in feeding back on that.”

Since 2013, when Joe became Director of Curriculum at Leeds Conservatoire, the training on offer has seen a huge diversification. Within four years, five courses with 900 students grew into a portfolio of 27 courses with 1300 students. “I identified that there were whole new areas of curriculum to expand into, that would make our training more reflective of working in the creative industries. For example - adding a Songwriting degree alongside Popular Music; adding a Film Music degree as well as Production; bringing the first ever Music Business degree into a conservatoire setting, and having the ambition to cover all aspects of the creative industries – which now includes Musical Theatre and drama training. At the heart of these courses we always had the same ethos – the melding of craft and art, and the exploration of the relationship between those who create art and those who engage with it.”

During his tenure, Joe has been keen to ensure that the conservatoire is a safe space to experiment with new ideas and genres in order to create new things. Now, moving forwards, his vision continues to be ambitious. “We need to focus on widening the range of students who come through our doors, in order to better reflect the communities we serve,” says Joe. “This will still be a safe space to experiment with all forms of music, art and performance, but our focus is on creating more opportunities to a wider range of students from different backgrounds.”

Now as Leeds Conservatoire’s youngest ever principal, whose primary interest is in contemporary art forms, Joe aims to ensure that these are on a level playing field with and taken as seriously as their more traditional counterparts. “It has always been important to me that what might be traditionally viewed as “low art” is treated as just as valuable as what might be considered “high art” - and that contemporary music and art can be taken incredibly seriously. This has been borne out for me personally by my experience in the studio and in the art gallery, and I’ve always tried to bring that to each educational institution I’ve worked in.”

“Leeds Conservatoire is now at a huge turning point,” adds Joe. “We have a new strategic plan, a new learning, teaching and assessment plan, a set of new directorates who are overseeing operations of the conservatoire, and we have a new name. Even in this difficult time, we feel very confident about what we have achieved already as an organisation, and we can be very ambitious about what more we can achieve in the future. I want to provide the most clear and understandable plan for Leeds Conservatoire, so that every single person who works and studies here can be proud to be part of it.”

Find out more about training at Leeds Conservatoire.

By Kath Hartley

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