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Degree Show 2015: Averting Disaster

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Written by
Colin Buttimer
Published date
18 May 2015

Our Health and Safety Advisor Niall Campbell knows that creative risk-taking is essential. So when it comes to the Degree Shows, he doesn’t question whether things can be done – just how they can be done safely.

Niall credits his positive attitude to experience working in health and safety for a police force and a stint as a Lieutenant in the Territorial Army. He explains: “The incidents people run away from are generally those that you have to send police officers into – to find out what’s happening and to make people safe.

“You know the situation could be dangerous, but you manage the risks. That’s how we do things around here. We know there are risks involved in some pieces, but – with good planning and risk assessment – we can manage them so that the artist’s inspiration is not compromised.

Innovative and experimental
Niall says: “If the students are willing to do the work to make it safe, then let’s do it. Take the 16-metre tree earlier this year. It was a huge steel ring hung on tension wires from the roof, then the hessian draping down was structured to look like a tree.

“It was a fantastic piece of art. When we first moved to Kings Cross, everyone was labouring under the impression they couldn’t use the height of the street because it was dangerous. But you understand the risk and you manage it.”

So does Niall think that there are inherent risks in art and design? ”Yes,” he says, “because a lot of it is very innovative and experimental. We get people creating things and trying things that haven’t necessarily been done before. And we have to encourage people to not be scared to try things.”

Takes your breath away
Skills learnt from Niall will benefit the students long after the Degree Shows finish. He explains: “When you’re out in the real world, you need to know how to do risk assessments – because the bigger and more prestigious venues will ask for one. It opens up the opportunity for people to go out and make their way as artists.”

For his part, Niall enjoys working with the next generation of artist and designers. He says: “When I arrived here, I thought I was something of a philistine. But I have an opinion about the art I see, and it’s nice to have the opportunity to talk to some of the artists about it.

“There are always things at the shows that catch my eye. The tree, that was amazing. I was looking at a metal ring on the floor with lots of hessian hanging from it – thinking ‘what the hell’s that about?’ – but then you see it finished, and it takes your breath away.”

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