“The degree show is an incredible moment when all this expectation kind of explodes and you witness all these new voices. It’s a fantastic manifestation – a kind of passing out parade of all the work and all the students.”

So says artist Bob and Roberta Smith in the 2015 a-n Degree Shows Guide, a 50-page guide to this year’s graduate art and design shows taking place across the UK.

As a campaigner on art education and associate professor at The Cass School of Art, London, Smith is all too aware of the importance of degree shows to students, referring to them as an “incredible rite of passage”.

What the degree show means to graduating students – as well as to the viewing public – is picked up on by several of the interviewees in this year’s guide.

Steven Bode from Film and Video Umbrella talks of moving image work putting pressure on the appropriateness of the traditionally bustling and busy degree show, while Artes Mundi director Karen MacKinnon wonders if universities could be doing more to engage with their locality and to accommodate the work of students for whom the gallery is a problematic space.

Louise Hutchinson of S1 Artspace in Sheffield, meanwhile, suggests that the degree show needs to be approached more like a ‘proper’ exhibition – and that students really shouldn’t bother with those business cards.

Excitement and curiousity

One thing underpins all these thoughts – an excitement and curiousity about this time of year, as new voices emerge and futures take shape. Some of those voices can be heard in the guide’s Class of 2015 series, which provides a snapshot of current thinking from five final-year students, including Holly Warrener from Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, whose work is featured on this year’s cover.

Also featured are the thoughts of practising artists, who recall their own degree shows – as far back as 1979 and as recent as 2014 – and share what the time meant to them.

Among these, Graham Fagen says the experience was similar to working towards an exhibition, even today. “You are flat out, nervous and unsure whether what you’re doing makes any sense at all – to anyone, even yourself,” he explains.

Emily Speed says her degree show was when she really began to see the potential of her ideas: “I could see quite clearly that I was only just beginning to explore what I was really interested in and that I had a hell of a lot of work ahead of me,” she says.

Adverts and listings for over 75 shows – plus a selection of previews – will help you negotiate your own route around this year’s shows, with suggestions across the UK, from Moray to Falmouth, London to Leeds, Edinburgh to Cardiff.

The perfect way, then, to prepare yourself for what Bob and Roberta Smith describes as “a fantastic jamboree”.

a-n’s Degree Shows Guide 2015 is available to view online via issuu where it can also be downloaded as a pdf