Ben Atkins: how do art and design students engage with degree shows?

On Friday 11th September, Ben Atkins, Student Engagement and Enhancement Projects Officer, presented a paper about how art and design students engage with degree shows at the Researching, Achieving and Inspiring Student Engagement (RAISE) Conference at Nottingham Trent University.

Ben’s project looked at how UAL students engage with the common experiential learning opportunity of planning, curating and installing final year degree shows. The aim of the project was to explore what, if anything, is gained from the degree show experience and to question whether the format has potential outside the disciplines of art and design. The research involved filming 9 interviews with students in the days and weeks leading up to their degree shows. Thematic analysis of the data showed that degree shows have value in developing student’s leadership capacity and autonomy, along with strengthening course community and identity.

Ben’s presentation was well-received with rich discussion taking place about the transferability of a degree show style event across to other, non-creative arts disciplines. The principle of sharing undergraduate work in an open forum was widely appreciated although some concerns were aired about handing over ownership of such a public event to the student body and the resources required to undertake such a project in a meaningful way.

A parallel investigation is currently underway, led by LCC graduates Sean Wyatt-Livesley and Rachel Littlewood who are doing an SUArts residency in the Blueprint Café in High Holborn. Their project is an inquiry into student-led shows and the learning curve that takes place via degree shows. They will be hosting an exhibition that will highlight the importance of degree shows to new students. The exhibition will run until 9th October.

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