Inspiring news today about the new Birkbeck ‘Bridges to Study’ programme

I heard earlier that the first of the workshops in our new Careers and Employability programme, designed especially for students in the History of Art department, went very well yesterday afternoon. Alex Jones led a session on ‘Careers in Arts’, and dropped me a line to say that attendance was very good, and that he’d enjoyed meeting our engaged and lively students! If you haven’t signed up for these workshops as yet, then do take another look at the full details here – and register for your free places at  forthcoming sessions on Eventbrite. This programme is open to all our students in the department, so whether you’re on the Cert HE or Graduate Certificate, a BA or MA programme, or are currently an MPhil/PhD student, if you’re thinking about developing your Career in the Arts, then do make the most of this great opportunity. The next workshop will be ‘Articulate your Story’, on 30th November (4-5pm, Keynes Library)…

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I also want to use this posting to remind all our MA and MPhil/PhD students in History of Art about the London Art History Society Research Fund for 2016-17. We gave out details about this at the induction evenings and via email – but do keep this fund in mind. It’s available to help support our postgraduate students in undertaking research towards their dissertations. Students from any of our Masters programmes are able to apply for up to £150, and MPhil/PhD students for up to £300 – we allocate the money on a first come first served basis, so do apply before it runs out! If you need financial support to undertake a trip to an archive, or a collection, or if you could do with help with costs such as photographing works of art which you’re currently researching, then do put in an application. Full details are available here. We’re very grateful indeed to the London Art History Society for generously providing these funds to help our postgraduate students – and don’t forget that they organise a rich programme of events, which I highly recommend you keep an eye on! This coming Saturday (26th November), for example, Dr. Glyn Davies, curator of late medieval sculpture at the V&A and co-organiser of the museum’s current Opus Anglicanum exhibition, will be giving a lecture following the Society’s AGM: ‘The Power of Pygmalion: Secular Stories on Medieval Caskets of Ivory and Bone’.

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 cinephilia

I hope everyone has had a chance to drop in and see the latest exhibition in the Peltz Gallery, as they’ve been coming in and out of the building over the last few weeks? A Museum of Everyday Life: Cinephilia and Collecting has been on since 7th October – but, if you haven’t yet had a chance to look around, it will be there until 27th January 2017. The display consists of a varied array of intriguing objects from the collections of the Cinema Museum – a museum of cinematic ephemera in Kennington, South London, which has to be visited by appointment. These are the relics of dedicated film enthusiasts – their personal archives and records – their indexes and scrapbooks. Graham Head, an amateur projectionist in the 1940s and 50s, with a cinema in his back garden in Hove, Brighton, for example, would clip squares of celluloid from every film he showed. These are collected in little brown envelopes. Vic Kinson, meanwhile, built up a collection of around 36,000 index cards, recording details of film stars: their careers, and their personal lives. You can read more about the exhibition here, in Sight & Sound. Fascinating – and not to be missed!

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I want to end this blog by drawing everyone’s attention to a wonderful development that was publicly announced today. Our own Leslie Topp, together with a number of other colleagues from across Birkbeck, has been working hard for a long time to get something called the ‘Bridges to Study’ programme off the ground. This is a package of support for asylum seekers and refugees living in London. Birkbeck will be offering funded places on undergraduate and postgraduate certificate courses across the College to 20 asylum seekers per year. This provides a vital opportunity to study for a group who have serious problems accessing educational opportunities in this country. Rebecca Murray, from the charity Article 26, explains some of the key difficulties in the news story which went live today:

“Their immigration status means asylum seekers are treated as international students, so they have to pay tuition fees at an international rate. Secondly, asylum seekers aren’t eligible for student loan support from the Student Loans Company, meaning no financial backing to pay their tuition fees or maintenance. They also have to navigate what can seem a bewilderingly complex academic system and culture.”

Not only will Birkbeck be providing funding for places on these courses of study, but the College will also be offering a programme of additional support alongside, to help the students settle into life at Birkbeck, and the UK educational system more broadly. The Master of Birkbeck, Professor David Latchman, has declared this to be a “fitting continuation” of the mission established by our founder, George Birkbeck, nearly 200 years ago: “to bring education to every Londoner who wants to better themselves, regardless of means or background.” You’ll have seen George Birkbeck’s face around the main Malet Street building, as well as his famous declaration (well, famous to us in the College, anyway!): “Now is the time for the universal benefits of the blessings of knowledge.” Mr. Birkbeck would be proud – and we are very proud indeed of the commitment and hard work of Leslie and her colleagues, which has helped to make a truly inspiring idea a reality.

after Unknown artist, stipple engraving, 1824 or after

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Congratulations to our graduates!

Many congratulations to those students who graduated on Wednesday this week! It was great to be sitting on the platform at this graduation ceremony, and to see familiar faces from our Cert HE, Graduate Certificate and BA programmes line up, have their names read out by the Executive Dean, Prof. Hilary Fraser, and go on to shake hands with the Master of Birkbeck, Prof. David Latchman, the President, Joan Bakewell, and to receive their degrees. We also saw three History of Art students walk up to get their doctorates: Dr. Frank Ferrie, Dr. Kirstie Imber and Dr. Michael Davies. (How nice to be able to give them their titles!). Here are some snaps I took on my phone at the reception afterwards:

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Dr. Frank with his supervisor, Dr. Robert Maniura, both looking rightly proud

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Ioanna Makri and Clara Neta, celebrating their BA Hons degrees

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– and David Daly (BA Hons History of Art) managing to keep hold of both a glass of wine and an art history book! So impressed to see a student still at the books, even on graduation day..

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At the start of the week, I was delighted to be able to send around more information about our Careers and Employability programme, being run for History of Art students in 2016-17. Thanks to a generous award from the Birkbeck Alumni fund, and the hard work of Mosh Aboobaker and his colleagues in the Careers and Employability team, we have been able to lay on this special programme for students in the department, designed to help with career options, skills, and connections with key institutions and industries.

We’re now encouraging students to sign up for the first part of the programme: a series of six workshops, running from later this month through to late May 2017, covering a variety of important topics – from career possibilities in the Arts, through use of social media and internships, to CVs and interview techniques. You can find full details on this flyer. Do go to the eventbrite page, and sign up for as many of these free, hour-long events as you can. You’ll see we’ve arranged these as one hour sessions from 4-5pm, in the hope that people will be able to fit them in before classes.

It’s a great opportunity, to take advantage of specialist advice, particularly tailored to History of Art students. It’s also important to the department that these go well, and have good attendance, as we can then make a case to run this programme again in the future! The programme is primarily designed for BA and Graduate Certificate, and MA students in the History of Art department – but we’re also making the sessions available to any Cert HE or MPhil/PhD students who may find them relevant. We’re also currently working on developing a series of ‘masterclasses’ with alumni who have used their Birkbeck degrees to good effect – and are developing a workshadowing programme, with a view to giving  students the opportunity to spend time with alumni at their current places of work, to learn more about various careers in the Arts at first hand. Watch this space!

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Some dates for your diaries…

*             The next event in the calendar of the History and Theory of Photography Research Centre is next Wednesday, 16th November – Dr. Samuel Bibby, from the Association of Art Historians, will be speaking about ‘”New! Art… Plus Added Social Purpose”: BLOCK and the Periodical Landscape of 1970s British Art History(6:00-7:30pm, Room 106, School of Arts)

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*             Then, the following week, early period colleagues will be running not one, but two events! The next Murray research seminar is coming up on Thursday 24th November at 5pm (Room 106, School of Arts): Dr. Pippa Salonius will be speaking on the topic of ‘Authority, Nature and the Image’ in medieval art and culture. Then, the following day, Friday 25th November, there will be a one-day interdisciplinary conference on Medieval Textiles: Meaning and Materiality, also supported by the Murray Bequest. Prompted by the V&A Museum’s current exhibition of medieval embroidery, Opus Anglicanum, this event will be bringing together leading and emerging scholars working on questions of meaning and materiality in medieval textiles – both real and imaginary.

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I was delighted to be sent the piece in the Guardian today, written by an alumna of our MA History of Art programme – Inga Fraser. Do have a look at her story, about how her Masters degree helped her to develop her career. But I’m now going to hand over the final part of this blog to one of our current MA students, Sunil Shah. As well as working towards his Masters in History of Art, Sunil also works as an artist, and a curator….

Sunil Shah, Research and art practice in ‘a rebel scene’

“As an independent curator, artist and a student on the History of Art MA programme at Birkbeck, it is always useful when you can draw your academic research into the real-world scenarios you face as a practitioner. Earlier this year I was co-commissioned by the New Art Exchange in Nottingham for a social engagement project that supplemented a thematic exhibition about street art, protest and activism in Egypt and Iran. The gallery wanted to engage Nottingham’s activists and protest groups to provide a local context for the show. Alongside Kajal Nisha Patel, a Leicester-based artist, we had a brief to explore Nottingham’s rich history of political activism and connect that to the contemporary state of things.

Such a commission was a minefield of potential representational issues. Problematic areas we found in social practice and participatory art ranged from addressing structures and hierarchies within art’s institutional apparatus, the authorship and political positioning of the artist and authentic representation of political and social struggle. We needed a critical approach to this commission and so I decided to base my MA Research Project on this very subject. Through the research, we broadly addressed the history of art and politics from Dada up to the present as a way of revealing how artists, activists, theorists and institutions have typically tackled some of the complex questions that arise from this form of political agency.

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The research helped in defining a methodological approach to the commission – how we worked with the participating groups and how we decided to present the results of the collaboration. We ended up with an approach that aimed to level art and institutional hierarchies, renounce authorship and maintain the creative expression of those involved. We found the research to be a critical and essential part of the commission, without which its meaning and relevance might have been reduced. We worked with four local groups: Nottingham Womens Centre; the Sparrows Nest Anarchist Library and Archive; rebel women; and Reel Equality. The exhibition is titled ‘a rebel scene’ and consists of a poster paste-up wall, participant photo-collages and a political slogan text installation. It is on now at the New Art Exchange in Nottingham and continues until 18th December 2016.”

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Do visit the display if you have the opportunity! Thanks Sunil.

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