As part of Origins Creatives, UAL Awarding Body will be sharing online exhibitions that colleges across the UK have worked hard to build and curate, to ensure that students are still able to share their work in lockdown. We caught up with Matthew Bowen, Programme Director for Creative Industries at Broadstairs College, to find out more about how they adapted to the challenges of lockdown to stay creative.
Tell us about how the pandemic impacted teaching this year. Did you continue teaching online once lockdown was put into place?
Like many art colleges across the country, our students had just started their FMP and our year 2 group were actually presenting their final proposals to us on the day the college closed. The last week was hectic, making sure the students had the materials they need to work from home, last bits of advice. Realising that it might be the last time we are all be in class together was a little emotional. Our department has always integrated digital technology to our programmes and we managed to get on top of online activities quickly, but a number of our students do not have access to computers, so we couldn’t deliver online lessons to the benefit of all students. We held class meet-ups and group tutorials on virtual platforms for those that could attend, many used their mobile phones to join Microsoft Teams.
How have your students managed to stay creative during lockdown?
Our students respond very well to emails, so we sent out regular updates and newsletters with resources such as online exhibitions that were being launched at the big galleries, competitions, even creating Spotify playlists for students. It was also a chance for us to test-drive new systems which we might need to use next year, such as Microsoft Teams, which we had not used before.
Planet eStream is great, you can download archive BBC programmes not readily available and it allows tutors and students to all watch a documentary together. We chose the recent documentary about Lee Miller and then all met up for a discussion in Teams afterwards.
We also kept up with live projects. The English and Creative departments have nearly finished the second issue of the college magazine, content has been provided by students across the college and Creative students have provided artwork to run alongside creative writing pieces. Students have been encouraged to enter competitions, including the Turner Contemporary Portfolio Competition. One of our students had his logo design chosen for new Thanet based health company and another will be featured in the local culture magazine, Thanet Tribune. All of this managed to happen during lockdown.
When did you have the idea to showcase your student work online?
Last year we had an amazing end of year show at the Joseph Wales gallery in Margate and had planned to do the same again this year. As soon as the college was closed, we started discussions with the students about somehow staging an exhibition, but it wasn’t until Claire from Margate Festival got in touch with the idea to host the show on their Instagram page that it all clicked into place.
The Margate Festival works with artists and designers across the country and have a big following, so this was a great opportunity for our students who might also now be involved in the festival in September.
How much work went into creating an online exhibition and how did you go about it?
Once the work started to come in, it took around a week to collate and reformat the work ready for Instagram, whilst also creating videos and flyers that could be posted across social media. Students were allowed up to 5 images to present their work, with added descriptions.
The work looks great on Instagram, the students did a great job of photographing their work at home without any professional equipment and most set up a dedicated Instagram account to showcase their artwork.
Was the work exhibited FMP related, developmental work or work that students have created as a result of being under lockdown?
The majority of students made work related to their original FMP idea, although the limitations of working from home meant that some students needed to change tack and demonstrated real ingenuity in reworking their projects. Surprisingly, only a few students responded to ‘lockdown’ as a theme and instead, many produced introspective work exploring personal identity.
I think for all of us, lockdown has removed a number of outer distractions and been a time for reflection.
Our year 1 group had been working with Dreamland in Margate to celebrate 100 years of the attraction and were preparing for an exhibition in September. They continued to develop this work during lockdown.
Do you have any tips for tutors who wish to create similar online opportunities in the future, and would you recommend online exhibitions to them?
We’re a small department and Instagram has really suited us as a platform for our online exhibition. It was relatively simple to set up but by linking with Margate Festival we have showcased the students work to a much larger audience. It took a lot of organisation and effort, but it has been worth it. Next year we would like to consider how to hold the physical and online exhibition simultaneously.
How have you managed to stay creative and continue to motivate your students during this challenging time?
For me, music and film have always been a huge inspiration and my art teachers at school introduced me to albums, bands and directors that had a big influence on my creative development. Lockdown has been challenging, but I’ve enjoyed having the time to discover new and old gems.
I’d really recommend the documentary film The Black Power Mixtape 1967-75, which led me to re-discover music of the Civil Rights Movement – Curtis Mayfield, The Impressions, Sly and the Family Stone. I try to motivate my students by sharing recommendations. In college we run a monthly Film Club, and this has continued throughout the lockdown period.
I have been proud to see the work that students have produced since the lockdown and enjoyed talking with students over the phone about their work. If they were struggling at the beginning, they just needed that familiarity of college to get back into it.
What advice would you give to students who feel discouraged and lack inspiration as a result of the pandemic/lockdown?
As an artist, there will always be times when you feel discouraged or lack direction. In these moments I encourage students to get lost in reading and research. It’s important to understand what you are trying to do and why. Then, experiment, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes, they’re just as valuable as successes in helping you to develop as an artist.
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