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Students criticise Royal College of Art's plan to hold degree show online | Education


The Royal College of Art (RCA) is facing a backlash from thousands of students and artists over their decision to make their degree shows online-only for the first time ever due to the coronavirus pandemic.

More than 4,500 people, including Turner Prize-winning artist Mark Leckey, have signed a petition calling on the RCA to suspend its programmes and postpone the exhibition until it is safe to return to the college.

The students behind the petition, who wish to remain anonymous, said RCA had decided to hold a virtual exhibition without consulting those due to graduate this summer.

They added that final year-students were currently unable to access their studios or workshop facilities at the college, meaning they were unable to complete work for the virtual show.

The students called on the college to postpone all education until it was safe to return to the studios, with a guarantee that the show would be held at a future date, whether later this summer or in a year’s time. “They should promise to fulfil their agreement with us, rather than getting rid of us quickly in order to get the next cohort in,” they said in a statement.

One contemporary art student said it would be a huge disappointment to be unable to stage her work in a real life exhibition “after two years of work, taking on thousands of pounds in loans, and working side-jobs around the clock in order to realise it”.

She said her degree show work – a room-sized video and virtual-reality installation of an estate agent for property on a floating island to escape an apocalypse – required the audience to physically engage with it in a way “impossible to simulate online”.

A painting student added: “A lot of my work is installed in unusual ways or not even on the wall. The idea of a virtual show is ridiculous to those of us who don’t work in digital media, ie the great majority of students.”

Leckey called on the RCA to postpone its graduate show, adding that a virtual exhibition could not replicate the experience of seeing the work in person. “All that student debt accrued only to be frustrated by a false equivalence,” he said. “Just postpone the show like the other colleges have.”

Artist and RCA alumnus Tim Stoner said the RCA’s decision to hold a virtual show was “an utter disgrace”. In an Instagram post he accused the college of treating the students appallingly, adding: “Denying this year’s artists the opportunity to experience what EVERY student in the past has done is cheating them out of one of the most important things the college offers.”

But artist Ryan Gander said: “There are a lot of hardships at the moment for a lot of people, real hardships. For me only having a degree show online might be a shame but it’s not a real hardship.”

A spokesman for the RCA said it had assessed the possibility of deferring the show until September or October but decided “this was not realistically feasible”.

“One significant difficulty is that many students will be unable to stay in London for that extended period,” he added. “To commit them to the significant additional costs that would be involved, and further costs to return to London in the future with the present level of uncertainty seems unreasonable. The latest reports from the World Health Organisation and others suggest that life will not have returned to normal by September.”

The University of the Arts London announced today that there would be an online exhibition of students work this summer, followed by a physical show later in the year, “subject to the public emergency” over the pandemic.



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