Shelly Asquith

© Shelly Asquith, London Project, BA (Hons) Culture, Criticism and Curation, 2013

Shelly talks about her final year workers’ rights campaign.

Please describe a project you worked on during your course

I started a workers’ rights campaign as part of my final year project. This included working with activists, campaign organisations, the media and other students to raise awareness of working conditions for both models and interns in the fashion industry. Over a period of six months we worked to highlight the lack of remuneration for full-time interns and the frequent undignified work models are required to do. These workers were almost always without contractual rights, and often also studying full-time. We managed to get organisations in the industry to sign up for a set of basic demands and built a profile of the issues by using social media, direct action and a range of creative tactics. As an art student and campaigner, this project essentially brought both activities together.

How did you hear about CSM?

I studied Art History at College, and had planned to continue the subject at University level. However, I came across Culture, Criticism and Curation which seemed a perfect fusion of being a theory-based course set in a practical, art school environment. I thought, what better place to be, surrounded and inspired by the world’s future artists, designers and architects. Being the first in my immediate family to gain any formal qualifications, let alone a degree, I never expected to be offered a place somewhere as prestigious as Central Saint Martins, but the application process was straightforward, based more on a portfolio or work and interview than exam results. 

How would you describe your course? 

There is so much scope for students to mould the course to their own interests, it is very adaptable. The units cover a wide range of areas, from practical photography to architectural history; popular culture to the art market. 

There is an opportunity to choose units and in the final stages there is a great deal of flexibility in what students can focus on - and a huge amount of support given when doing so. Because the course is comparatively small, there is a focus on group work and a real chance to get to know fellow students. The course develops a range of skills – not just academic writing but in how to effectively communicate, how to formulate and deliver creative ideas and events, and how to collaborate.

What is a typical day like?

In the first two years there are more lectures, workshops and seminars and a greater expectation of independent study in the final year. The focus on working outside of lecture time is well matched with academic support and resources in the college to facilitate research and group-study.

Do you have any experience of participating in exhibitions, events or working with industry?

While I was a student, I worked part time in various third sector roles, in Parliament and on a Mayor of London campaign. While not art-related per say, my work outside of college informed my learning and vice versa: I was able to engage with campaigns in a creative, critical way and my experience eventually shaped my Final Project.

How have you found the support whilst you studied here?

Our student-facing staff at Central Saint Martins and in general at University of the Arts London, are unsung heroes. The lecturers, technicians and librarians put in long hours to ensure students are receiving a world-class education. I was pleased to see that several of the staff on the course won student-nominated awards this year – well deserved.

What sort of a person do you think you need to be to do well on your course? 

I do not think there is a particular type of BA Culture, Criticism and Curation student. What I loved about Central Saint Martins and my course was that the students came from all over the world; bringing different cultural perspectives with them. They had a broad range of skills, some straight came from school while others had a degree already under their belt. I think students do need to be open-minded, ambitious and self-motivating; although these are skills I developed while I was on the course! 

What do you hope to go on to do? 

In my final year, I ran for Students’ Union President and won. I felt passionate about the need to defend and extend students’ rights and have an active, campaigning union that is fighting for the future of arts education. In the future, I would like to work in arts education and outreach, but who knows!