Heaven and Hell: Jago Cooper

Jago Cooper, who becomes director of the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts in Norwich in November

Jago Cooper, who becomes director of the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts in Norwich in November - Credit: Contributed

Jago Cooper is the new director of the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts and Professor of Art and Archaeology at UEA.

Professor Cooper has spent more than 20 years working on a diverse range of cultural projects around the world, always centred on the study and communication of visual and material culture.  

He has spent the last decade as head of the Americas at the British Museum and director of the Santo Domingo Centre of Excellence for Latin American Research.

With a particular interest in using digital technologies to reach new audiences, his work spans the subjects of art, museology and archaeology.

In addition to his recent books and exhibitions, Jago has also written and presented a series of BBC documentaries based on his research and international collaborations.

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Here she talks to Gina Long

What’s been the impact of Covid-19 and how are you adapting? 

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As for everyone, it has had a huge impact on work and home life over the last 18 months, but things seem to be getting back on a better path now, fingers crossed.

I work on a lot of international projects and collaborations, so I have spent a lot more time in front of a screen at home and a lot less time out and about working with the cultural wonders of the world.  

What is your connection to East Anglia? 

My new role as director of the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts is bringing me to live in East Anglia for the first time which I am hugely excited about. 

What is your East Anglian Heaven? 

Well, the spectacular Sainsbury Centre is obviously my favourite place! Along with the sea and broads because I love to swim, surf and generally potter about on the water.  

The Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts in Norwich

The Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts in Norwich - Credit: Contributed

What is your East Anglian Hell? 

I am lucky enough not to have one yet, I will let you know after I start in November. 

What’s your favourite East Anglian landmark? 

Standing on the Roman fort at Burgh Castle is one of my favourite East Anglian landmarks so far, but I am looking forward to properly exploring the whole county over the coming years.  

What’s the best thing that happens in East Anglia every year? 

My friend Ruairidh MacGibbon’s totally chaotic but heartfelt Burns Night celebrations. 

What is your favourite restaurant? 

Sunday lunch at the Lifeboat Inn after a long walk along the windswept coast would take some beating. 

What's your specialist Mastermind subject? 

The international history of mountaineering. 

What is always in your fridge? 

Well, the honest answer is beer, but that doesn’t give a very good impression, so let’s say milk for the gallons of tea I drink.  

What’s your simple philosophy of life? 

That life is too short. 

What’s your favourite film? 

That changes a lot on my mood really and on how much I am trying to impress people with the answer, but if I had to choose one, perhaps The Sting – a genuine classic. 

What was your first job? 

Working for the Museum of London Archaeology Service doing rescue excavations on building sites in the city. 

What is your most treasured possession? 

Children as possessions sounds a bit strange so as an actual object it would be one of my late mum’s art works. 

Who do you admire most? 

I can’t reduce that to one person, but they are all connected by their achievement through adversity. 

What is your biggest indulgence? 

Old school sweets that come out of big glass jars. 

What do you like about yourself most? 

My resilience in the face of a hangover. 

What’s your worst character trait? 


Where is your favourite holiday destination? 

I spent nine months in Sri Lanka in my early 20s and have not found anywhere to beat it (and I’m not just saying this to please my mother-in-law). 

Best day of your life? 

That’s easy: my wedding day – best party of my life. 

What’s your favourite breakfast? 

Homemade pancakes and maple syrup along with large quantities of caffeine.  

What’s your favourite tipple? 

A pint of Hook Norton in the Sherborne Arms. 

What’s your hidden talent? 

It’s still waiting to be found. 

What’s your earliest memory? 

Rolling a wooden ball down the stairs with my brother… I haven’t thought about that for a long time. 

Tell us something people don’t know about you? 

I once spent a night busking in Piccadilly Circus. 

What’s the worst thing anyone has ever said to you? 


Tell us why you live here and nowhere else? 

Because the University of East Anglia is the most inspirational and exciting university in the world… and they’ve very kindly given me a wonderful job! 

What do you want to tell our readers about most? 

That the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts is a truly spectacular place to spend time with some of the world’s most extraordinary works of human creativity and achievement. Drop by and say hello sometime. Do take a look https://www.uea.ac.uk/

If you have a story, email gina@hallfarmfornham.com or follow Twitter: @geewizzgee1 Instagram: @ginalong_geewizz

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