Maintaining Quality of Experience
One of the challenges in managing a closing course is to ensure that the remaining students not only get the chance to complete the relevant modules but, of equal importance, is the experience they have whilst doing so. One of the ways we are managing to do this is to continue to deliver the course through team teaching. We have had for many years a team of part-time tutors who, as with so many others in this field, been willing to teach for one or two days per week. This loyal band is still with us, even though the amount of teaching I am able to allocate each person has been greatly reduced.
A central tenet of our course structure has been the link between student attendance and tutor presence. The students must attend for one day per week (six year model) or one and a half days per week (four year model) over three terms per year. Every module is delivered by a tutor or, in later years, a team of tutors. The essential ingredient is that when the students are in the studio, so will be their tutor. This has ensured that the questioning and sharing is a regular expectation and that the exchange operates in multiple ways – between tutor and student, between student and student, between the whole group. As the students’ knowledge and confidence develops they learn readily from each other.
As with many degree courses, our students develop work in a wide range of practices – painting, sculpture, printmaking, photography, video, drawing, installation, performance, to name a few – which requires the teaching team to engage with ideas and projects outside of our own ‘specialisms’. However, being able to timetable different tutors across each module ensures that at some point there will be specialist technical knowledge available for all students. Instrumental in this team is our one technician who also works alongside individuals with advice and guidance. So to be able to draw on four tutors in addition to myself, provides a continuity of experience for the formal aspect of the students’ learning.
A student activity
Last weekend one of our students, Maud Lannen, was working with a team of performance artists under the direction of choreographer Joe Moran at Nottingham Contemporary http://dance4.co.uk/event/artists/2014-11-08/arrangement. Part of a whole weekend of performances, Maud was one of 9 performers, selected through auditions, who presented the work The Body. The opportunity to work with Moran, the other performers and his dance troupe, was invaluable to Maud, nourishing her own practice and the projects with which she is currently engaged.
As it took some time to post my first entry, I think it is appropriate to spend some time recording the activities of October. Preparation for one of these events began some months ago when Barton’s in Beeston, Nottingham announced they would be resuming their annual arts celebration Carnival of Monsters, a two week multi-media show using all of the industrial spaces that once comprised Barton’s bus depot http://www.carnivalofmonsters.co.uk/. (This event had been rested in 2013 owing to the tram works running past their door – these should have been completed by this summer but, of course, that’s another story!)
Our Fine Art course was very well represented with a group of current (and just graduated) students – Lydia Crump, Marilyn Deakin, Uta Feinstein, Maud Lannen, Ali Morgan-Tansley, Tony Moss, Ju Smith, Jane Wheat and Janet Wilmot.
There was also a group show by Socket, made up of some alumni who operate as a collective http://www.socketart.org.uk/.
This event provides artists across the East Midlands to respond to some exciting (and potentially daunting) spaces in a Festival of Contemporary Art. We were all delighted that the organisers of the event have returned to the annual art scene in the city.
We have also had the opportunity of attending the launch of EM14: Arrivals, the East Midlands Graduate Project residency, held at Surface Gallery, Nottingham on 24th October. The Residency provides eight selected graduates with four weeks of space and support as part of their transition from university to professional art world. The exhibition of new work produced during the residency includes two of our recent graduates, Tony Moss and Ali Morgan-Tansley. The show last Friday evening demonstrated what can be achieved in just four weeks of concentrated work and the very real development of ideas. Particularly evident for us, as we knew their work from June this year, was the progress made by Tony and Ali. Congratulations to them and all the others.
For an evocative description of the residency see http://www.surfacegallery.org/blog/ written by another of our graduates, Shelley MacDonald, herself a member of EM13: Arrivals and now Writer in Residence for Surface Gallery.
In amongst all of this excitement and celebration, the real activity of teaching and learning has been progressing well. Four weeks into the autumn term and the pattern of the week has once again established itself. We’re a very intimate group now with our 20 students – I’ll write more next time on the challenges of providing “quality of experience” in such circumstances.
This blog entry marks the start of the demise of our Fine Art degree at a University in the East Midlands. Although we have been closed to new starters for two years now the part-time structure of the course means that we still have two more years to go, during which time our aim is to maintain quality of experience for the remaining students. Therefore, to date we have lived through half of a long close down process. Channelling strong emotions generated by the University’s decision in a professionally acceptable way has been a considerable challenge for all the staff working on the course. This, then, is my attempt to retrieve something positive from what, I believe, has been a destructive act.
All those artist educators who have had the privilege of working within a structure in which they believe, have experienced the pleasure in seeing students develop into independent practitioners. In many ways that is sufficient but occasionally our work receives an additional endorsement through students or graduates gaining external acknowledgements from competition selection. There is an irony, recognised by all involved in teaching on this programme, that moments of public success must now go ignored by the institution that took the decision to close the course. We have had an exciting summer with one of our recent graduates, Mandy Payne, reaching the final five shortlist in this year’s John Moores Painting Prize with her painting on concrete slab, Brutal, which depicts the Park Hill flats in Sheffield;
also one of our students, Uta Feinstein, was selected for the Jerwood Drawing Prize 2014 with her work Quest.
It is now back to the process of encouraging, challenging, sharing and questioning the remaining 20 students in this new academic year.
This blog post was written at the beginning of October but was delayed because of technical difficulties.