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Alan Davey

MA Classical Civilization

Alan Davey, chief executive of the Arts Council, credits his studies at Birkbeck with making him think differently at work, and also widening his intellectual horizons.

Studying the MA in Classical Civilization part-time at Birkbeck was a revelation for Alan, and has helped him approach challenges in new ways as his career has gone from strength to strength.

Although Alan always yearned to study Classics, he studied English Language and Literature for his undergraduate degree at the University of Birmingham. In 1995, when he was 34 and Head of Arts at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Alan decided to pursue his passion for Classics by enrolling at Birkbeck. He said: ‘Birkbeck has a strong reputation as a good place to study Classics because of its proper rigour in terms of scholarship and research.’

Alan found that the course at Birkbeck opened up new ways of thinking. He added: ‘After 10 years of working, I had got used to a sloppy way of conducting arguments. The course really did change my way of thinking. It gave me the tools to think differently and taught me methods of analysis that I hadn’t encountered before.’

Alan’s career continued to blossom. At the then Department of National Heritage, he designed the National Lottery – his proudest professional achievement because it raises money for good causes, including the arts, heritage and culture. He was Director for Culture at the DCMS from 2003 until 2006. In November 2007, Alan was appointed Chief Executive of the Arts Council, which champions, develops and invests in artistic and cultural experiences that enrich people’s lives. From 2011-15, the Arts Council will invest £1.4 billion of public money and an estimated £1 billion from the National Lottery in artistic projects.

As well as contributing to his professional thinking, Alan’s studies at Birkbeck widened his intellectual interests. He said: ‘The course opened up so many doors in my cultural hinterland. My dissertation was on the object of affection in Latin love poetry. I discovered all kinds of new things that I did not know existed. I discovered Hellenistic poetry – it was a huge revelation.’

Alan fondly recalled his experiences studying at Birkbeck. He added: ‘There was a sense of dedication and real purpose that I enjoyed. The staff were very generous in sharing their interests.’

Under Alan’s leadership, the Arts Council will continue to encourage interesting and innovative art in new settings. He said we can expect new forms of art created with digital technology to merge with live events in the future. Alan also emphasised how subsidised art is integral to all artistic developments, including commercial ventures. He added: ‘If we lose the pure arts and authenticity of ambition, then the creative economy will not thrive. The Arts and Humanities are essential for life, society and civilisation, and for education and health.’

Find out more about our courses in classical studies.

'The course really did change my way of thinking. It gave me the tools to think differently.'