Round Table: Art School or Business?

Central Saint Martins actively engages with business as part of the students’ educational experience. In common with all HEIs Central Saint Martins is also a business itself and having to run in an increasingly business-like fashion.

What does this mean for our students and graduates and the type of education and professional contacts we offer? 

This round table discussion took place on 26 March 2013 in the White Lab, Platform Theatre.

There was a robust debate about these issues from a business and client perspective. It was chaired by the editor of Design Week, Angus Montgomery, and he was joined by:

  • Simon Allford, Founder of the London based architecture practice AHMM, whose recent projects include the Saatchi Gallery and the Tea and Yellow Buildings. He is currently working on the new Google HQ in King’s Cross
  • Imran Amed, Founder and Editor of The Business of Fashion, Imran is regarded as one of the fashion industry’s leading thinkers on digital media and feeds his unique understanding of digital strategy into his work as an Associate Lecturer at Central Saint Martins
  • Sebastian Conran, Central Saint Martins Alumni and internationally recognised designer who founded the Sebastian Conran Associates design studio in 1986, which he continues to lead
  • Cindy Godwin, the EMEA Marketing Director for AlixPartners, a global business advisory firm that pioneered value-creation restructuring for businesses. AlixPartners are a corporate sponsor of Central Saint Martins and have worked with the college to create the ‘AlixPartners Culture Club’ events series that bring together students and graduates with the company’s clients. They have also supported the Central Saint Martins Innovation ‘Next Level Business Programme’ in order to help creative professionals grow their product sales both profitably and sustainably.

There was participation and contributions from an invited audience composed of students from MA Innovation Management, the Fashion Manager and Creative Director from the Design Laboratory, the Dean of Fashion, the Events Manager, the Head of Marketing and the Director of Enterprise and Innovation, as well as some staff from the Central Saint Martins Innovation Centre. The main issues debated included:

What does the term Art School mean now?

“Art School” – there is some debate about whether this term is now out of date. Somewhere like Central Saint Martins offers students a diverse range of courses at all levels from foundation and undergraduate to postgraduate and research, therefore “Art University” is perhaps more reflective. 

Active engagement with industry partners is ever more important and industry partners should take some responsibility for education and learning. If a company engages with students or graduates it often makes the company smarter – the company gets as much from the partnership as the student.

Design, in particular, has a wide bandwidth – and within the Art School environment the mixing and remixing of disciplines as they brush up against one another is very exciting.

Art Schools like Central Saint Martins provide students with space and time to grow and mature creative ideas, while remaining grounded in a specific craft. ‘Craft’ is a divisive element to this form of education because it somehow constrains / shapes / confines the students idea formation in order for their thinking processes to expand.

What kind of skills does Art School equip students with?

The ‘Crit’ (the critique session) can be considered a highly vocational exercise. In the world of industry it can be translated to mean the ‘pitch’. 

In this context students are exposed to scrutiny from their peers or tutors as they formally evaluate their artwork. In response to feedback they must develop their own voice, rationalise and communicate ideas clearly and defend their position – this happens all the time in an architecture or design practice.

What are the most important attributes that you look for when employing a recent graduate? 

  • Character and work ethic
  • An understanding of how much time and dedication it takes to get anywhere
  • Industry experience
  • Ability to communicate ideas
  • Not afraid to ask questions and challenge
  • Can take responsibility and move forward in the company

What is the percentage breakdown between Art School and Business?

The barriers that divide Art School and Business need to broken down. We know that creative graduates engage in a life long learning portfolio – developing new skills and knowledge throughout their lives by combining work in industry with further study, education or training. There is an essential relationship between art school and business.