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Middlesex University takes artists in residence scheme to the heart of the workshop

Emerging artists guide and inspire creative arts students

Middlesex University has just welcomed a new set of Artists in Residence.  Eight professional artists - a textile designer, a silversmith and a bookbinder, as well as fine art specialists and digital artists - have joined the University’s Cat Hill campus in north London for a two year period, starting in May 2010.

Through the scheme, Middlesex has given the traditional Artist in Residence model a new twist. In the past, an artist was often literally ‘resident’ in a studio, working on their own pieces, but cost and space issues in many organisations mean this model has decreased in popularity. Middlesex’s new approach bases the artists in workshops with the students, where they can offer students added guidance and advice on developing their skills and techniques.

Cornelia O’Donovan, one of the Artists, is an illustrator and print maker who gained a BA at Middlesex before doing an MA at the Royal College of Arts. She said: “I applied for the scheme because I wanted to try out teaching, to see if it suited me - this is an informal way to do that. I’m very comfortable in the environment here – the facilities are very good. It’s been great, very exciting, there’s lots of energy, and everyone’s really interested in their work - it makes me even more interested in my own practice”.

The artists appointed to the scheme will work with Middlesex students, staff and technicians in their specialist field for one day a week. For each day of assisting in the workshops or studios they undertake, the artists gain a day’s access to workshops and facilities across all the University’s arts disciplines - not just their specialism. This represents substantial cost savings for the artists, as workshop and facilities can be quite expensive to hire.

Middlesex’s first Artist in Residence scheme started in October 2008 – artists included specialists in glassmaking, ceramics, sculpture, print making and photography. Nancy Slonims, Programme Leader for Illustration at Middlesex University, manages the scheme. She said:
“We have selected young and emerging artists, with established skills, who also had recent experience of the academic environment – perhaps postgraduates or recent graduates”. Nancy explained that the role of the Artists in Residence is to facilitate students’ work, and although they do not teach, they often assist with teaching sessions so they need an understanding of academia and the student level of learning.

Nancy added: “Our Artists in Residence are a fantastic resource. They are explorative and experimental and it’s great seeing them discussing work with the students. Most of them come from an academic environment which is very useful – they know our world but can also offer a different perspective, and also give students a taste of the artist’s working world”. She added: “I really like the fact that Middlesex is helping emerging artists to get established...we benefit from the interesting things they produce – it keeps the dream alive! ”  

Howard Chilvers, Associate Dean, Business, at Middlesex University’s School of Arts and Education, said: "We’re delighted to see the Artist in Residence scheme flourish. By structuring the scheme in this way, we are creating the opportunity for our students to learn from practicing artists in addition to their academic staff contact. Our students and staff also gain real benefit from the perspective the artists bring from the professional creative arts world".

Photographer Gabriella Sancisi has returned to photography after a break due to illness. She said: “The scheme at Middlesex is a really good opportunity to get back into an educational environment and having done this, I feel there may be opportunities in teaching which I could pursue. Also I wanted to see what was going on at student level – I felt I had got stale, and I wanted fresh inspiration”.

Gabriella advises students on their projects, directing them to other sources and suggesting other artists to look at. “There are great digital facilities here at Middlesex and that’s really helped me in my work. It’s been great, I’m doing so much now, it’s like a whirlwind! I love meeting the students and seeing their work – it’s really good fun, it reminds me of what it’s like studying and making new discoveries”.

The Artists in Residence plan to hold an exhibition in the autumn where they will display the pieces they have produced during their residency.

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