Diversity & Accessibility in Higher Arts Education: A Student Panel

Updated: Dec 23, 2020

When I arrived to London as a just-turned-eighteen, fresh-out-of-school fresher, I imagined the cosmopolitan city as one that was rendered unique through its blend and assortment of different people; one that provided equal opportunities to all who stepped in it, just if they worked hard enough. After two years of living here and entering my final year of my undergrad, I’ve realised that this is just one of the very idealistic and superficial views of what the city really is like, especially in terms of the creative world. 

Studying at an elite art institution, such as the Courtauld, has made me realise that the creative industry as a whole has a long way to go in terms of providing equal opportunities to all, in terms of ethnicity, sexual orientation, income, or disability.

In light of this, Georgia Keeling, Elaoise Benson and I have gotten in contact with students from arts universities across the country, who have kindly shared their experiences on what it is like to study at creative institutions as students with disabilities, from low-income backgrounds or as students of colour, and the issues of access that affect their learning.


- SARA QUATTROCCHI FEBLES


The Courtauld Institute of Art



STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES



WHAT UNIVERSITY ARE YOU AT AND WHAT ARE YOU STUDYING?


LUCY FREYA SABATH: The Courtauld Institute, BA History of Art.


ANONYMOUS: BA History of Art.


SCARLET BAILEY TAIT: I am at The Courtauld Institute of Art and I am currently in year two of my undergraduate degree in History of Art.


ARIEL GALIMARD: Central Saint Martins, BA Fine Art XD in year 2.


FROM YOUR EXPERIENCE, HOW DIVERSE IS THE STUDENT BODY AT YOUR INSTITUTION?


LFS: Not very diverse at all.


A: My uni is almost infamous for its complete lack of diversity. Though I do believe a lot of effort has been put into changing this by the SU, things are not changing at the rate they should, and things haven’t changed during the time I’ve been here. There’s little representation aside from rich people with double barrelled names who went to boarding school.


SBT: From my experience the study body is not as diverse as it could be in comparison to other Universities in London. I read on Courtauld assets that in 2019, the diversity of staff at the Courtauld was recorded by one’s ethnic origin. This study showed that 61.3% of the staff were White British. I feel that this statistic indicates the lack of diversity in the institute and unfortunately the student body follows suit.


AG: I have never seen a tutor in a wheelchair or openly talk about being disabled, except dyslexia perhaps. I wish there was more tutors who would be able to quote work from disabled artists. I am not sure if this is a problem with not enough disabled tutors applying or the obstacles that a disabled person wanting to be a tutor may encounter in the hiring process.



DO YOU THINK IMPLEMENTATIONS OF DIVERSITY QUOTAS ARE USEFUL AND ARE THEY YET BEING SUCCESSFULLY IMPLEMENTED?


LFS: I think they are useful but I doubt that they are being successfully implemented. A very high proportion of students come from fee-paying schools, compared to the ratio of private and state schools nationwide. I definitely think more needs to be done to encourage people from lower economic backgrounds to consider Art History as a viable option, seeing as the subject is rarely taught at secondary school, especially state secondary schools, and art exhibitions can often be expensive (even with concession tickets). Additionally, the curriculum needs to also be diverse to be attractive to a diverse student body, as well as resulting in better education. 


A: I think they are useful in some ways, but also I do feel that many just try to meet that quota as a minimum. There’s little to no outreach programs for BAME students, low income students or disabled students. So no, they aren’t being successfully implemented.


SBT: Despite diversity quotas seeming useful because of their intention to diminish racism and promote diversity, it only appears effective from a surface level, as even though quotas are a promising first step, they can’t completely fix the problem of the lack of diversity within an institution. Journalist Yomi Adegoke said ‘Institutions that have established quotas are usually far too busy congratulating themselves for their surface level changes to worry about the finer details, such as retention rates or roles into which they're recruiting minority staff’. I think her opinion is very insightful: institutions need to do more than just implement diversity quotas. I think bigger action needs to take place at creative institutions to ensure that a diverse community is attained. I was pleased to see that in a statement in response to Black Lives Matter 5th Jun 2020, the Courtauld publicly acknowledged ‘our visitors, students and staff are not diverse enough, and this must change’and they commented that ‘we know we must do more to address systemic racism, and we must do it better’. However, I am yet to see any drastic changes in the Courtauld concerning diversity - but I understand that it is a gradual process.


AG: Yes, I think it is incredibly important that the students feel represented and feel like tutors know exactly what they are going through. I have felt tutors who are queer can orientate me better toward queer research. And I believe it would be similar to a tutor who's part of the disabled community. I also have yet to see a tutor who is part of my ethnic group.



HOW MUCH RESPONSIBILITY DO YOU THINK LECTURERS AND FACULTY STAFF HAVE FOR ENSURING REPRESENTATION IN THEIR INSTITUTION? OR IS IT JUST DOWN TO THE TRUSTEES THAT THERE ARE FAILURES?


LFS: I think trustees should enforce diverse representation, but lecturers and faculty staff can also do much themselves to ensure representation in the content of what they teach, straying away from the traditional canon of white male artists, but also setting readings by a wide range of scholars of different ethnicities and genders etc. 


A: I think it’s largely the fault of the trustees, as there just seems to be no effort for change on their part. However, I do also think that faculty can act on some capacity in their own way to ensure representation within the institution i.e. by ensuring that their syllabus is more accessible and diverse.


SBT: I think lecturers and faculty staff should not be held fully responsible for ensuring representation in their institution. It is essential that an institution works as a collective body to ensure a diverse representation is achieved.


AG: I don't know exactly what goes on behind the scene, but I feel where the problem stems is from the recruitment process of a more or less diverse staff.


It’s been a real struggle to get even the most simplest of accommodations and there have been times where staff have made me feel embarrassed and ashamed about my disability.
- Anonymous

THE RECENT EXPERIENCE OF WHEELCHAIR USER CIARA O’CONNOR DURING HER VISIT TO TATE MODERN’S OLAFUR ELIASSON EXHIBITION, IN WHICH FRIEND HAD ASKED A GALLERY ATTENDANT FOR A RAMP FOR HER SO SHE COULD ACCESS THE RAISED WALKWAY RUNNING THROUGH THE SCULPTURE IN HER WHEELCHAIR. WITH THE RESPONSE OF THE ATTENDANT “[BEING] IMMEDIATELY CROSS AND WEIRDLY DEFENSIVE” AND SPOKE TO HER “LIKE SHE WAS A NAUGHTY AND PARTICULARLY STUPID TODDLER”, TELLING HER THAT IT WAS “THE CURATOR’S CHOICE” NOT TO INCLUDE A RAMP AND THAT SHE COULD GO AROUND THE SIDE. THIS SPARKED ISSUES OF THE ACCESSIBILITY OF ART TO THOSE WITH DISABILITIES.DO YOU FEEL THERE IS ENOUGH ON-SITE SUPPORT, IN THE CLASSROOM FOR EXAMPLE, FOR THOSE WITH EITHER/BOTH PHYSICAL/LEARNING DISABILITIES? HOW DO YOU FEEL THIS CAN BE IMPROVED?


LFS: As a student with a learning disability at The Courtauld I can say first hand that the support has been abysmal. Key adjustments, such as being provided with lecture slides and readings in advance, have never been implemented, sometimes only getting these weeks late. I was only given extra library privileges at the end of my second year. Most concerning has been the attitude of professors, personal tutors and even the “welfare” staff. I have been continually asked to be “patient” with the university when asking to receive the learning adjustments which the Institute pledge in their student handbooks and on their website that they already provide. There clearly wasn’t a learning disability system in place at all when I arrived. Now I’m in my third year, I am still unsure of what support is available, and with the history of defensive and hostile behaviour, I am further discouraged from accessing the university for any type of support. When raising the issues I had been having with several different members of staff, they suggested I was “making up difficulties for myself” and that “perhaps I didn’t belong there”.  As regards physical disabilities, it took until 2019 for the Courtauld to finally invest in redesigning the layout of their institution in Somerset House, which promises to improve wheelchair accessibility. It was only with the onset of Covid-19 and the ensuing lockdown which prompted Courtauld to record lectures and upload them online, something they had told me and fellow disabled students wasn’t possible previously.  


A: As someone with learning disabilities, I do not feel like there is enough on-site support for students who are disabled. One of the main issues I had before everything went online was that the institution completely refused to provide lecture recordings for their students. There just seems to be a complete lack of understanding about those of us that suffer from disabilities and little to no training for staff.


SBT: At the Courtauld I feel that there needs to be more on-site support for students with learning disabilities. From my experience at the Courtauld, you need to be pro-active and seek out support yourself. For example, there is an academic support tutor, which is a great asset to have at an institution. However, I think this should be more heavily advertised and promoted. Due to not being a student with physical disabilities, I don’t think I am in the position to answer whether there is enough on site-support at the Courtauld or creative institutions concerning this matter.


AG: I think in CSM we are incredibly lucky to have a mostly all wheelchair accessible campus, and in my experience, the disability department is very helpful. But it took me a full year to get a part of the studio made accessible, even after a near-miss incident was filed. I wish the requests of students could be taken more seriously and not brushed off to budget or time. Also most of the foundation buildings at UAL are inaccessible.



SENIOR PRODUCER JO VERRENT OF UNLIMITED, AN ARTS ORGANISATION DEDICATED TO SUPPORTING AND PROVIDING OPPORTUNITIES FOR DISABLED ARTISTS IN THE UK, RECENTLY DREW ATTENTION TO ANOTHER STRAND OF ABLEISM - IN VISUAL ARTS CURATION: ‘I THINK [IT IS] BEHIND OTHER ART FORM. UNLIMITED SUPPORTS MORE PEOPLE WORKING IN VISUAL ARTS THAN IN ANY OTHER ART FORM BUT HAS MUCH LESS TRACTION IN RELATION TO PLACING THE WORK IN FRONT OF AUDIENCES.’ DO YOU THINK THERE IS A STRUCTURAL ISSUE OF ABLEISM WITH THE CREATIVE ARTS INDUSTRY AS A WHOLE? HOW DOES THIS TRANSPIRE TO HIGHER EDUCATION IN THE ARTS, AND PARTICULARLY TOWARDS YOUR EXPERIENCES?


LFS: Yes I definitely agree that there is a massive ableism issue, and the industry is very slow in making any changes. Art and education spaces should be more accessible, and more online access is also key. 


A: Yes there is definitely a structural issue of ableism within the creative industry. There’s no understanding or empathy, and staff have little to no idea about how to meet the needs of disabled students. It’s been a real struggle to get even the most simplest of accommodations and there have been times where staff have made me feel embarrassed and ashamed about my disability.


SBT: I do believe there is a degree of ableism in the creative arts industry. But the problem of ableism is not just applicable to the art industry, but nearly all industries of work. Although, compared to other industries, the art industry has a reputation for being accepting and liberal in the twenty first century; arguably, the issue of ableism is not as prevalent in this industry as it was in the past. Fortunately, I have not faced any discrimination or been disadvantaged due to having dyslexia whilst attending higher education in the arts. I have felt welcomed and supported despite my learning disabilities. However, ableism does remain an issue and it needs to be combatted through spreading more awareness. For example, educating university bodies more in learning/physical disabilities.


AG: I don't feel too qualified to talk about it. But I have noticed disabled people, at least physically disabled people who use mobility aids, are never on people's minds, are always an afterthought. And that transpires in the art world as well. In the same way, a disabled person will have fewer chances to score a job than an abled person, I feel it is the same in the art world. I can see gallery exhibitions, already very competitive, refusing the work of a disabled person because of accessibility needs and such.


Most concerning has been the attitude of professors, personal tutors and even the “welfare” staff. I have been continually asked to be “patient” with the university when asking to receive the learning adjustments which the Institute pledge in their student handbooks and on their website that they already provide...When raising the issues I had been having with several different members of staff, they suggested I was “making up difficulties for myself” and that “perhaps I didn’t belong there”. 
- Lucy Freya Sabath

THERE HAS BEEN THE RECENT OUTCRY FROM STUDENTS AGAINST UNIVERSITIES AND THE GOVERNMENT, FOR THEIR TREATMENT OF STUDENTS DURING COVID, AND THE CALL FOR REFUNDS ON UNIVERSITY FEES HAS BEEN SHOT DOWN BY MOST MAJOR INSTITUTIONS. IS ENOUGH CONCERN BEING GIVEN TO HOW THE TRANSITION TO ONLINE LEARNING MAY EFFECT DISABLED OR MARGINALISED STUDENTS ACCESS?


LFS: Like many students, I think we should receive at least partial refunds, considering all we are losing from our university experiences, including social events, exhibition visits, suitable access to facilities, and trips abroad. 


The fact that Courtauld has finally adopted online teaching is a positive thing for its disabled students. What is not helpful is the lack of information and warning as to when in-person teaching will recommence. More effort should have been made initially to ensure disabled students were adequately set up at home to receive online learning. Additionally, the effect Covid-19 is having on mental health is a very key issue which is not being dealt with sufficiently. Much more support should be offered to students, for example more counselling opportunities and more regular check-ins from personal tutors. 

A: Not at all, I am someone who struggles massively with attention and concentration issues and online learning so far has been hell for me. I zone out most of the time and find it extremely hard to sit still. This, combined with technical issues and the institution's refusal to record the seminars/lectures has made me fear for the outcome of my degree.


SBT: I can appreciate with COVID, institutions are working hard in finding ways to adapt effectively online. This can be a process with learning curves. However, I believe that not enough concern is being given to how the transition to online learning may affect students with disabilities or who are marginalized in institutions. For example, I think that students who fall under these categories should be contacted by their learning support within their institution to see how they are finding the transitions and what can be done to ensure that they feel comfortable and supported within these changes. Additionally, due to COVID, there are time restrictions in the library for students. I think this needs to be revaluated by the Government for marginalised students who may not have access to a computer at home. At the Courtauld I believe the transition to online learning and how it impacts students with learning disabilities has been taken into account to a degree. For example, all lectures are recorded and there are features on zoom which allow you to adjust the speed of the voice. I think this ensures that students with slower processing speed do not feel behind and are, thus,tynh less overwhelmed by these changes.


AG: As for my specific needs, the way online learning has been set up in my university has been very positive. It helps me get to lectures I wouldn't have been able to attend otherwise, and it allows me to self regulate when I rest and when I work. For me, it has worked very well. But I'm really hoping this effort stays the same once we have a vaccine. I want to be able to attend lectures online still and for special care to be given to people who are immunocompromised.


I believe we have been very lucky about how CSM has handled the virus on campus.



STUDENTS OF COLOUR



WHAT UNIVERSITY ARE YOU AT AND WHAT ARE YOU STUDYING?  

Stella Kajombo: I actually graduated from my Fine Art course during the summer of 2019. I studied at Arts University Bournemouth and immediately after I was elected as the Vice President of the Students’ Union, alongside good friend Jordan Verdes (who is an incredible artist) as president. I think this role was an eye opening experience for us both. Since leaving that position in July, I’ve been working on developing my art practice outside of the education environment. 


Amina Onitilo: I’m studying Photography at UAL.


Hannuri Lim: I study BA History of Art at the Courtauld Institute of Art. 


Ruby Bansal: I am at the Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London, in my third and final year studying BA History of Art.


Anonymous: Courtauld Institute. 


Jamie Kodera: The Courtauld Institute of Art. I am an MA History of Art student studying contemporary American art.


FROM YOUR EXPERIENCE, HOW DIVERSE IS THE STUDENT BODY AT YOUR INSTITUTION?  

SK: If anyone is aware of Bournemouth as a destination, they will also tell you that it is predominantly white. This is something I was aware of, but underestimated, when I chose to study there. So you can only imagine how reflective the course was of the location. I think there was only one other black person in my year, and very few people of colour across the entire course. It was almost exciting to see someone that looked like me around campus, and this made it very easy to connect with other people of colour. I would say that despite having a large number of international students (with Chinese students making up the majority)  as a whole the institution was not as diverse as it could be, both within the student and staff body. 


AO: It really varies by course. My course is more diverse than most, but I know of people who are the only person from their ethnic group on their course. 


HL: Even on my first day at the Courtauld, I could tell that there were not many BAME students. I could not find the exact statistics, yet I would say approximately 80% of the students are White/British and/or European. Amongst 70 students, there are less than 10 Asians. 


RB: Not diverse in terms of non-white representation within the student body.


A: In my year of 50, there were two Black/mixed students and a handful of Asian students. It wasn’t much better in other year cohorts. 


JK: The Courtauld is probably one of the least diverse spaces I have entered in my lifetime thus far. In terms of racial diversity, there are very few people of colour and I believe I am the only BAME student in my module.


Quotas aside, I’m interested in what institutions are doing to create a safe and welcoming environment for the BAME people that already exist within them. Is welcoming more people into a hostile environment really progress?
-Amina Onitilo


DO YOU THINK IMPLEMENTATIONS OF DIVERSITY QUOTAS ARE USEFUL AND ARE THEY YET BEING SUCCESSFULLY IMPLEMENTED? 

SK: Yes! I believe that implementation of diversity quotas is so crucial. As much as we might like to  believe that institutions have moved so far ahead from what they used to offer, when it comes it equality, diversity and access to education, sadly, this isn't true. Institutions  today are still unable to cater to all members of society, particularly those from ethnic minority backgrounds. I believe that using our voices has been incredible in generating necessary attention. From talking to people of colour in the years above or below me, it always seemed like our voices were echoing one another's, with no solutions being provided from the institution. In order to see actionable change happen, we can’t  simply trust the institution's word, we have to seek operational change. And as much as most institutions ‘understand’ the work that needs to be done, by implementing these quotas we are securing cultural shifts that will protect future generations of students and staff; allowing those members to hold the institutions to account. 

Although I would add that very few institutions are successfully diverse, even with their diversity quotas in place, due to how they prioritise their work. All universities have an Equality and Diversity charter of some sort, but based on the prioritisation / the rigidity within school board decisions, implementation can be slow. It is only through large movements that we are able to fully action change. This can clearly be seen in the national and international BLM movement; where the public as well as students spoke up and demanded commitments towards institutional change - most of which were implemented. It took pressure and prioritisation for this to happen and we need more Universities to see the work around diversity and inclusion as an immediate priority, not a 10 year plan.


AO: Considering that I’m hearing about some institutions only starting to put an emphasis on them recently, I’d say they aren’t successfully implemented yet. But quotas aside, I’m interested in what institutions are doing to create a safe and welcoming environment for the BAME people that already exist within them. Is welcoming more people into a hostile environment really progress?


HL: Although the Courtauld implements diversity quotas for BAME students, I think there could be a lot of other reasons for its very small group of BAME students. Firstly, the Courtauld only offers one BA course, which is in History of Art, to undergraduates, which is widely perceived as a Eurocentric discipline. In addition, I suppose the Institute itself is not as well-known to non-EuroAmerican countries, as it is in the ‘West.’ 


RB: I think its important to be transparent in how the study body is made up. Diversity quotas have been used inappropriately. It's the same issue with using ‘BAME’: groups of people are arbitrarily linked by something, like skin colour, while disregarding differences within them. The brown, or black, or indigenous, or Asian community is not one unified group, and our institutions sometimes disregard our uniqueness, and fail to address the actual issue. Often race is used to address economic issues, which is not only insulting, but it also means that those that need help are sometimes overlooked. 


That’s not to say that quotas aren’t helpful. Many non-white students have a similar experience as a student based on the fact that they aren’t white, but that isn’t the be all and end all. 


A: They could be useful if university admin knew how to use them - they clearly currently aren’t working well, when cohorts are still so white. 


JK: Only to a certain extent. I think it’s necessary for institutions to hold themselves accountable to accepting a certain number of ‘diverse’ candidates, but I also think quotas fail to address greater issues of institutional racism (or are considered to be a solution). Additionally, I have observed many universities claiming diversity due to a high number of BAME students, but in reality, most of those students fall into a specific BAME demographic (in most cases, there are larger representations of East Asian or South Asian students and very little representation of black students). This is perhaps part of a greater issue/conversation surrounding the use of the term BAME, and how it can misconstrue perception. Nonetheless, diversifying an institution should go beyond representation optics.


HOW MUCH RESPONSIBILITY DO YOU THINK LECTURERS AND FACULTY STAFF HAVE FOR ENSURING REPRESENTATION IN THEIR INSTITUTION? OR IS IT JUST DOWN TO THE TRUSTEES THAT THERE ARE FAILURES?

SK: Universities have these ‘naturally’ enforced hierarchies that lecturers and tutors uphold and students follow. And despite the myth that these hierarchies shift as we grow older (such as the fact that we drop the use of ‘Miss’ and ‘Sir’ to replace it with the educator's first name, hence closing this gap) there is always a sense in which students look up to their educators.To be honest, I did the same. When starting university , I personally gave myself to the institution in order to gain the best knowledge around art and my relationship with art . At the time I didn't believe that my passion in the subject was enough.


With this being said, it is clear that lecturers have a huge influence on their students; they engage directly with them the most, they see and learn what is working and what isn’t satisfactory, and from this they should be able to recognise the gaps in the systems available. Having knowledge from working within a university, I know that Faculty staff face their own challenges within the structure; however, they also make the biggest decisions on what the course needs, where funding should be allocated and even how to deliver the best course. This is where they can do their best in shaping the course to mirror what is needed to deliver better access and equality for their students. As a student, I failed to understand why, by my second year of studying, I felt numb to the course and a little lost. It was only after  graduating that I realised my lack of access to lecturers of colour who could understand, or even begin to bridge the barriers to cultural understanding that made it a little harder to fully explain my work.  I always think about how different this would have been had I recognised this sooner, or how I would have engaged with the course had there been access to members of staff that had similar life experience. 

With regards to Trustees, it is always beneficial if there is diversity within their boards; however, trustees can only truly respond to concerns that have been raised. This is because unlike lecturers, they don’t experience the everyday lives of staff and students, nor can they truly understand. Their role is to respond to things on a macro level, which they do. The issue is that concerns that are raised may not always reflect issues of representation to the best capacity; that's why a lot of institutions face criticisms for not adequately responding to issues around representation. What students raise and what is responded to might be completely different. So, as a system, everyone is responsible for accurately sharing information. In order for Trustees to make the best decisions for their stakeholders, they need members  like lecturers and faculties to raise student or course concerns clearly and seek solutions; these solutions  should always be clear as they trickle up to the decision makers. 


AO: I think the responsibility is somewhat shared. Teaching staff should be willing to take the initiative to ensure there is representation within their course materials without technicalities or quotas from the trustees, and trustees should ensure that they have a diverse staff and student body, and that their curriculum reflects this.


HL: I personally think that the lecturers and academics at the Courtauld are very passionate about providing equal representation and decentering the ‘canon.’ Most of them are active in ensuring representation in terms of the academic materials, so I would not hold them responsible for the lack of BAME students at the institute. Yet, I do believe much more could be done by the faculty staff/trustees to promote the institution to a wider variety of students. 


RB: Lecturers and faculty staff have a great deal of power in what they teach, which authors they include on the reading list, whose voices and experiences they choose to elevate. However, it is my opinion that if higher ups, trustees, directors, deans, chose to advocate for a more diverse, or de-colonised, curriculum, it would happen. 


Who is responsible for failures is hard, because i think its a mindset. Lecturers, senior leadership, trustees can’t get their heads around what it means to de-colonise. I think they fear it - the fear having to relearn maybe? It is hard to understand, because I find de-colonising my thought process and education invigorating. 


A: The whole uni is culpable - you can’t expect BAME students to want to be in a room with such bad and out of date teaching; also, BAME students won’t want to go somewhere they don’t see themselves - all white teaching staff can be a real disappointment - not exactly inspiring for young BAME academics. 


JK: I recently had a conversation with a faculty member at my institution and I specifically asked them about the hiring process for fellow faculty staff. Apparently they do play a role as part of a hiring committee, and thus it is their responsibility for ensuring diversity and representation so long as it is their priority. I’m sure trustees play a large part too, but I believe everyone’s voice is heard and considered, especially if they are persistent.


I personally couldn't relate to the major artists being given to me as I couldn't always connect with their experiences. It made it even more difficult to situate myself in a contemporary art space...I had to work harder to research current artists of colour...it also felt like I was the one exposing the knowledge of black artists to the course.
- Stella Kajombo

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE DIVERSITY WITHIN YOUR READING LISTS AND COURSE ASSIGNMENT? DO YOU FEEL IT ADEQUATELY HELPS PROGRESS AND EXPAND YOUR KNOWLEDGE OF PRE-EXISTING ART PRACTICES? DO YOU FEEL A DIVERSE COURSE AND READING LIST WOULD HELP COMBAT INITIAL ISSUES OF RACE AND DISCRIMINATION IN ART INSTITUTIONS? 

SK: As a student, the level of diversity within the course’s reading list was quite poor. I don't remember there being a particular unit that explored any notions around diversity which is a shame. When I was studying I actually had a favourite section in the Library, I could easily explain how to get there and where to find specific books if someone asked. AUB is a fairly small campus with a small library; however, it's quite sad that I dedicated my degree to that small section in the library. Additionally, the library reflected the books from the course and what the reading lists  were framed around, and for me, having the Stuart Halls as the only form of diverse theory as reference material, wasn’t enough. 

I think I've had to shift my understanding of art practice, and by going to university I thought it’d enhance knowledge beyond the western artists whose work we are given and told to copy at secondary school. However, my experience is that this still exists but is perpetuated in a different way. Whilst we learnt about Pollock, we were taught to critique him not just copy him; yet I personally couldn't relate to the major artists being given to me as I couldn't always connect with their experiences. It made it even more difficult to situate myself in a contemporary art space. It is only through like minded people that I was able to express and situate my practice, I had to work harder to research current artists of colour, female artists who were national and international. With this being said, it also felt like I was the one exposing the knowledge of black artists to the course. This goes to show that unless you create a shift, or unless the resources are there, the educator will not see anything wrong with the system they are operating within. A diverse course  and reading list is essential in helping combat initial issues on race and discrimination but this alone is not enough. Institutions are accepting more and more of an eclectic mix of students, but they also need to respond to those particular students’ needs. What I am insinuating here is that educators need to learn from their students, they need to respond to their students' needs to provide more access and most of all, if they are unable to provide good quality of teaching or experience to those students, they themselves need to be educated, or be open to bringing in and employing someone that can provide that access. 


AO: I think the reading list for my course definitely needs to be expanded to represent ideas from more diverse voices. It often feels very male and western-centric. However, I think a reading list is a good starting point, but not enough to combat issues of racism and discrimination. Additionally, institutions must ensure their staff have anti-racism and anti-discrimination training to create a comfortable environment for all students and staff.


HL: Yes, as aforementioned, I am very happy with the course materials and how many lecturers themselves are vocal in terms of having access to diverse ideas outside of the Eurocentric canons. I think such a way of education could help combat issues of race and discrimination in a long run, since students will be aware of such debates when they enter the art world. 


RB: In the two instances where my lecturer was non white (East Asian in these cases), my reading lists, course content and essay assignments were incredible in their diversity, and have truly interested me. 


 More commonly, I have been taught by white lecturers who have failed to diversify their module. Consistently non-white experiences/subjects/artworks or peoples are relegated to the subsidiary lectures, and not the primary ones. I find it disappointing but not surprising. I don’t think this is malicious, but rather a result of ingrained hierarchies: non-white people have been taught for decades as inherently less important than their European counterparts. 


Given that my research interest is in non-white communities, and de-colonising art theory, I feel that the course I picked perhaps doesn’t serve my education aims. Unfortunately, prestigious undergraduate, art history courses are almost always centred around the white narrative of stereotypically white periods of art history: the renaissance, baroque, medieval Europe, impressionism and modernism. While it's my belief these periods could be taught involving more people of colour, they so often aren’t. When applying for universities during sixth form, I struggled to find a prestigious course that also fit into my interests. 


 Diversifying the curriculum would make real moves to engage a broader prospective student body, but I think issues of race and discrimination run deeper than what we are taught or what we teach. Colonialism and Slavery were major contributors to art history and they need to be thoroughly engaged with for the damage they also brought. It feels as if we investigate the commissions and buildings of slave owners, or the beautiful objects stolen during Colonialism, without acknowledging the horrors of their background.


A: Terrible - even in courses directly dealing with race/colonial studies, outside of the classics such as Edward Said, they don’t know who to use. Current and contemporary BAME writers are barely seen in the syllabus: it goes well beyond Said and Sontag.


JK: Although the MA Programme is designed to encourage us students to pursue our interests and explore areas of the field that we are curious about, I think our assigned readings and course discussions are dominated by white scholarship. Even with the contemporary art field constantly in flux, it still feels like we are focusing on artists that have long been recognized for their contributions to western art historical narratives rather than challenging that and exploring outside the dominant framework. I tend to be more excited about art that I can relate to as a person of colour, but there have not been too many moments thus far where we’ve discussed a broad range of racially or culturally diverse artists. I do think a diverse course and reading list would help combat issues of race and discrimination to a certain degree (it’s more appealing when you can relate to the subject matter you are learning about), but once again it’s only a small piece of a greater institutional problem. It’s not progress if only white faculty members and students are discussing the scholarship of people of colour – there has to be diversification at every level. Coursework alone won’t solve the problem.


WHAT ROLE DO YOU FEEL ELITE INSTITUTIONS HAVE IN COMBATING THE ISSUES OF DIVERSITY WITHIN THE ART WORLD? WHAT KIND OF STRUCTURAL CHANGE NEEDS TO HAPPEN FOR THIS TO BE POSSIBLE?

SK: In the Arts Industry, it is the elite that seem to own knowledge (of the arts), which in turn perpetuates a hierarchical  power to access that others might not have. I guess we can call that privilege. I say this with the understanding of spaces like Frieze Arts Fair, which are run on the basis that ‘only when you can afford to buy a ticket can you truly be part of the bigger conversation'. Having gone to Frieze only once in my lifetime (even then it was through another artist’s support), I saw incredible work from all over the world, yet this wasn't the work that was being shared in the local galleries that are accessible to everyone. It’s shocking, and saddening to think that a lot of people don't get to see this incredible work.I suppose to answer the question, I do believe that elite institutions have a huge responsibility to be more accessible. Firstly, this should be done through costs of being part of these spaces. Secondly, there is a need to be more open to engaging with schools of all levels and locations. Finally, elite institutions need to make the people become the focus not the organization. This means an end to the extreme celebration of artists of colour when they're given a platform. This might sound odd, but I read a quote on @BlackBlossoms.online ‘s Instagram post quoting Howardena Pindell’s ‘Art (world) & Racism’, which stated “I am not a so called minority, ‘new’ or ‘emerging’ or ‘ a new audience’: these are all terms used to demean, limit and make us appear to be powerless. We must evolve a new language which empowers us and does not cause us to participate in our own disenfranchisement”. This quote simply asks for artists to show as they are; skilled and talented individuals, unless their practice reflects otherwise; it is when organisations see the showcasing of BIPOC artists as an unusual prospect that it stops being work towards diversity and more about the organisation’s image. 


AO: They must ensure that people from various backgrounds are represented in all levels of their institution and allow these people to have a voice and be a part of making change.

HL: I think elite institutions should be at the forefront in providing equal representation and combatting issues of discrimination. Such institutions are in the position to set the standard for a lot of others. Structurally, they could not only implement diversity quotas  but also actively participate in setting a narrative/tone that embraces diversity as an Institution. In other words, I don’t think it is enough to simply hire BAME individuals, whilst keeping reiterating the same discriminative Eurocentric ideals as a whole institution. In addition, on academic levels, I hope such institutions could provide better scholarship opportunities for international students (or even reduce the tuition fee, which is currently at least double the amount than UK-EU students). 


RB:  Racism runs deep within the art world. We only have to look at the Courtauld, originally housed in the former home of a woman who’d accumulated her wealth from profits of the slave trade, to understand how entrenched and unacknowledged this is. However, it is also possible to challenge issues of race and class discrimination, regardless of how powerful or how racist/classist an institution is. The question is more how productive, or how much change will be brought from such a challenge. Challenging the immoral status quo is hugely important, but creating lasting change is the harder task in my opinion. So often institutions will want the positive PR of increased diversity statistics, or a BAME figure head, but won’t actually deal with the entrenched racism or classism that they perpetuate, in their curriculum, faculty makeup, senior leadership team or exhibitions they choose to endorse. 


A: Nepotism and academic nepotism is a major issue - unis need to actually realise that what they say and do is going to affect the real world, and they have a responsibility to all their students to make them aware of how to be anti-racist. For their BAME students, they need to realise they may need extra support in such a racist institution. 


JK: Based on what I know about its reputation, The Courtauld is supposedly producing the next generation of art historians, critics, curators, etc. I think that’s an incredibly important role to play, and if that is the case, then the Institute should envision what a more equitable and accessible art world would look like and implement those changes internally. Rather than reconfirming the art historical narratives that have proven to be problematic (or even racist), there should be efforts made around requiring decolonial frameworks and expanding the canon to become more relatable for a wider range of people. Structural change must be implemented at all levels of the institution: administration, faculty, staff, students, research, coursework and scholarship. Funds must be re-directed to prioritise these efforts more urgently. Institutional change does not happen overnight, and I think other universities and arts/cultural institutions are ahead in implementing critical measures for achieving a more equitable and diverse academic environment.


Looking for a curatorial candidate with a certain background oftentimes disqualifies, even if unintentionally, black and brown people. There shouldn’t be an expectation for non-white people to assimilate to the standards of success that have been designated by white people. There has to be a change in what is perceived as intellect, institutional knowledge, and cultural understanding.
- Jamie Kodera

IN TATE BRITAIN’S RESTAURANT, YOU CAN DINE AROUND ‘THE EXPEDITION IN PURSUIT OF RARE MEATS’ A MURAL DEPICTING THE ENSLAVEMENT OF A BLACK CHILD AND THE DISTRESS OF HIS MOTHER USING HIGHLY STEREOTYPED FIGURES. IN LATER SCENES THE BOY RUNS BEHIND A CART, ATTACHED TO IT BY A CHAIN AROUND HIS NECK. IN THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA SCENE, THE CHINESE FIGURES ARE PRESENTED IN CARICATURING COSTUMES. IF POWERFUL INSTITUTIONS HOST THESE DEEPLY PROBLEMATIC RACIAL VISUAL NARRATIVES, IS IT POSSIBLE TO CHALLENGE THESE INSTITUTIONAL AND CURATORIAL ISSUES OF RACE AND CLASS DISCRIMINATION?

SK: The restaurant first opened in 1927 and the Tate commissioned the artist in question to complete these works. I find this to be such a powerful moment to hold on to because institutions like Tate are being forced to look within themselves and throw away  the notion that ‘they’re better than they used to be’. 

When institutional racism exists, it is sometimes difficult to pinpoint the issues adequately. From this piece alone, it shows that the public views institution as a luxury, rather than a powerful force of socialisation or even racism. So many people dined in the restaurant generating income for the institution, and not once fully absorbing the images around them, and in over a hundred years, no changes were made. I find it difficult to believe that concerns were not once raised, and I believe it is to the discretion and priority of the institution that the pieces were still available. As a result, I do believe it is possible to challenge institutions, however this is absorbed and comes down to the prioritisation of the institution. I truly believe that had it not been raised whilst the BLM movement was happening, Tate would have had other ways of responding to the atrocities being presented. We must not forget that these organizations are operating within a capitalist system. 


AO: I think institutions must acknowledge their own colonial and racist history in order to completely challenge discrimination in any way. Otherwise any efforts to seem progressive come across as hypocritical and performative.


HL: Unless such images are used in a very carefully curated tone - such as to address what is wrong with the image - I definitely think they should be deterred. Thus, the way that Tate Britain has used that specific mural painting simply reflects their ignorance. I think such problematic images should only be open to public through powerful institutions when they are set in an educational context. 


A: It just makes you want to like burn it down and start again - right now I’m thinking a lot more about making BAME-led spaces, instead of fighting for inclusion and diversity in racist spaces.


JK: It is possible, and there are many critics already challenging and questioning the role that museums play as institutions of power. But it’s also important to remember that when many of these institutions were established, they were only meant to appeal to a certain race and class of people, while historically ignoring or marginalising others. It’s an inherent problem that requires a multifaceted approach in order to ameliorate the discriminatory and offensive nature of powerful institutions.

THE WHITE PUBE STATE THAT ‘WHILE REPRESENTATION IS OFTEN REDUCED DOWN TO SEEING US IN THE GALLERY...THIS IS ONLY THE TIP.... [THERE SHOULD BE] BLACK AND BROWN PEOPLE IN ALL AREAS OF THE ARTS...IN SENIOR CURATORIAL ROLES...SHAPING TEN-YEAR STRATEGY’. IF THERE ARE NO BAME STUDENTS GAINING ACCESS TO HIGHER ARTS EDUCATION, PARTICULARLY PRESTIGIOUS ONES WITH INDUSTRY LINKS, HOW CAN WE REFORM THE OVERREPRESENTATION OF WHITE PEOPLE AT CURATORIAL LEVEL? IF THERE ARE NO BAME LECTURERS AND FACULTY STAFF, WHAT ROLE MODEL DO THE BAME STUDENTS THAT ARE AT THE INSTITUTION HAVE?  ARE USEFUL AND ARE THEY YET BEING SUCCESSFULLY IMPLEMENTED?    

SK: I couldn’t agree more. This echoes my point earlier around how universities should do more in having BIPOC members of staff so that students feel welcome. This should be the same in the arts industry, particularly those who are leading in shaping the future of the industries. Personal experience can sometimes offer more than simply having the  qualifications - no white individual can be qualified enough to understand the black experience etc… It is so crucial to open up and have more representation and more importantly provide the world with different types of role models from what the patriarchal society has consistently celebrated. 


In order to reform overrepresentation of white people at curatorial level, universities of all standards and levels can provide more when educating students. I find it difficult to answer this question without considering the impact that having individuals of all backgrounds can bring. This is because unless someone is able to raise the issues of gaps around representation, this may not be a priority for many curators. I suppose one way this could be reformed is if galleries followed a quota that suggested, for example, “within a year, we expect to showcase works from particular backgrounds and of all levels of experience” some galleries provide a platform for newly graduated students the opportunity to exhibit. Once again, we are operating in a capitalist system; some galleries, particularly those being funded by Arts Council England, might have the clause to provide these services as part of the funding; however, organisations can choose to be more accommodating when showcasing and providing artists with the space.

Speaking from experience, if there aren’t any role models, BAME students only have one another to lean on. I was supported by students in the year above and found myself doing the same with supporting students of colour in the years below. This isn’t a great arrangement, but it definitely helped. Also, having the Student Union spaces such as the People of Colour Society or the International Society was so moving for me: these were spaces I could laugh, play, share, express myself fully, and they definitely provided role models for me. But I think all of this goes to show that educational institutions need to do more, because when students have to compromise, it means they’re not getting the experience they were promised. If BAME students who are paying the same fees as their white counterparts are  not getting the same experience, or access to the education that they deserve, this, to me, is a failing education system. There is more work to be done around recruitment, around who the Universities Honorary Fellows are, and what staff members are teaching their students. All of these factors matter and contribute to making a difference.

AO: I agree, it is important that people from BAME backgrounds are represented within the arts at every level in order for there to be meaningful change. Talented and qualified BAME people exist, they just need to be given equal opportunities. Educational institutions have a big part to play in breaking down barriers, and must ensure their curriculum, staff, and student body are diverse in order to do so.


HL: I personally think that education is essential for students like me to gain access to the arts world on a curatorial level. Even for white students, it would be very difficult to reach a higher curatorial role in the arts world without ‘prestigious education.’ That is  why I believe the universities and institutes have a significant role in addressing the issue of discrimination. Yet, if I have to think about something else than education, I could suggest an idea of a platform for people from various backgrounds to build connections and gain relevant work experiences. 


RB:  I’d prefer to opt to increase the representation of BAME (a complex term), rather than address ‘overrepresentation’. I think so often white communities feel diversity and increasing BAME representation is an attack on them, when it isn’t, and its important that we reflect this in our language.  Ultimately, if students are not accessing the courses that usually lead to curatorial/industy outcomes, there are two options: either those courses need to work harder to broaden their student body, or the industry needs to change the way people gain access to it. If galleries like the Tate, the National etc ran apprenticeships, or provided roles for people straight out of school or college, the need to access these elite courses in order to access the industry would be redundant.  I think it's also important to note that it is not always a question of economic access - that BAME students can’t afford to do a degree in history of art at the Courtauld etc. There is this uncomfortable assumption that if you are a BAME student you are also from a deprived area, which is not always the case. This is not to negate the truth that many communities of colour are also deprived communities, but more to point out that ‘economically deprived’ is not interchangeable with people of colour.  I don’t feel there are a great deal of role models for BAME students, particularly in art history, at the Courtauld. Sometimes we might idolise our TAs if they happen to be a BAME student as well, but this is rare! 


A: I think its important to have support system - when the university can’t offer it, you need mutual aid and support from your peers: group chats, mass complaints, even just a nod in the library. I think that attempting to change their ways is always going to be an uphill battle - not impossible, but hard. Finding likeminded BAME people in/outside the academic bubble helps. DIY art etc. 


JK: The journey to become a curator is a long-winded process, rooted in academia and other systems that are historically oppressive. Reform has to occur at all levels of the process, but the expectations have to be reassessed as well. Looking for a curatorial candidate with a certain background oftentimes disqualifies, even if unintentionally, black and brown people. There shouldn’t be an expectation for non-white people to assimilate to the standards of success that have been designated by white people. There has to be a change in what is perceived as intellect, institutional knowledge, and cultural understanding. Lastly, once curators have been able to reach a certain ranking position in museums, they often hold these positions for decades (especially at well-established institutions). These positions and any openings should be prioritised for black and brown curators.


The (very few) critics, curators, art historians, and directors who are BAME are a great source of inspiration for me personally, but having a support network of other students of colour has also helped my get through difficult times that I’ve faced as a BAME student in the past.


So often institutions will want the positive PR of increased diversity statistics, or a BAME figure head, but won’t actually deal with the entrenched racism or classism that they perpetuate, in their curriculum, faculty makeup, senior leadership team or exhibitions they choose to endorse. 
- Ruby Bansal

THE COURTAULD OFFERS A SMALL SELECTION OF MODULES ON NON-WESTERN ART. WHAT IS THE ETHNICITY OF THE PROFESSORS THAT TEACH THESE COURSES? WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR EXPERIENCE IN THESE MODULES REGARDING THE PROFESSORS’ METHOD IN TEACHING A NON-WESTERN COURSE?


HL: So far, I have been in three modules on non-Western art - Chinese Art in London Collections, Contemporary Asian Art, and Modern Iranian Art. The professors for each module were American, Singaporean(British?), and American Iranian. 


In their lectures, I was exposed to both international and local approaches to non-EuroAmerican histories of art. In terms of the ‘international’ approaches toward Chinese art - such as that of John Clark’s - I was quite apprehensive since it seemed like they focused more on the methodology than the historical, and cultural context. I ended up writing several essays on the problems of translating cultures, as a reflection of my experience in the courses. 


Overall, these courses helped me tremendously as they allowed me to think critically of approaching non-EuroAmerican art histories. I am still in the process of forming my own opinion towards the way that the arts of non-EuroAmerican cultures are interpreted in a global realm; whether they are negative or positive, my responses to the academic approaches that I have, and am experiencing at the Courtauld is helping me to form my own personal perspective towards this issue. 


RB: Within the non-western art modules, there is a higher percentage of non white academics. However, white academics have been employed to teach on non white art as well. Whilst employing white academics to teach on non white art can be seen as an extension of white dominance, I think the greater issue is why non-white communities are repeatedly reinforced as separate or additional to the mainstream narrative: Modernism with a focus on American culture is not titled ‘American Modernism’ but its geographical location is included when dealing with non-western communities. What would be more diversifying would be to stop segregating BAME contributions to typically ‘white’ periods of art (the Renaissance for instance).  I don’t think I’ve had enough experience of non-white lecturers versus white lecturers to see a difference in methods of teaching a non western course. 


A: White - very well intentioned and intelligent (many leading their field) but white - nearly all of them.

Many are open to conversation and are aware of their position, but this doesn’t stop them being white. 




STUDENTS FROM LOW INCOME BACKGROUNDS



WHAT UNIVERSITY ARE YOU AT AND WHAT ARE YOU STUDYING?  

Anonymous:  I’m studying at the University of the Arts London, Central Saint Martins and my course is BA (hons) Fine Art. 


Rosie Sluggett: BA History of Art at the Courtauld Institute.


Daisy Brown: Central St Martins, studying BA Fine Art.


FROM YOUR EXPERIENCE, HOW DIVERSE IS THE STUDENT BODY AT YOUR INSTITUTION?  

 A: I think that our student body isn’t as diverse as you’d expect, but this does depend on the course you're studying, I believe. Even though we have a large international student body, I feel that the student body is predominantly white. When it comes to sexuality/genders, I feel like there is diverse range of people, as the arts is such an ‘accepting’ community. In terms of class, I think there is a range of people from many different types of social/economic backgrounds, but it can be quite clear sometimes that most people have middle/upper class backgrounds. Again, I believe it depends on the degree and people don’t generally discuss their class position with others.   


RS: It’s diverse in the sense that many students are from outside of the UK, which is really amazing to engage with for home students, but that’s where it stops. The Courtauld’s inability to attract students from non-selective state schools, especially those from BAME backgrounds, is shocking. However, I think this is a much wider problem bound up in the nature of the subject and the economic difficulties presented by studying in London. 


DB: The student body is somewhat diverse. I would say Central St Martins has a larger percentage of BAME and LGBTQ+ students than other universities I had viewed pre-enrolment. With regards to class, most students seem to be middle/ upper class.  


DO YOU THINK IMPLEMENTATIONS OF DIVERSITY QUOTAS ARE USEFUL AND ARE THEY YET BEING SUCCESSFULLY IMPLEMENTED? 


A: I don’t really have a lot of knowledge on the diversity quotas, but I believe that quotas can work if they’re are implemented correctly, and the people who these are being aimed at have a part in the creation and the application of the quotas. I do think that if they’re used to improve the image of the institution/company and not to actually improve equality/access  that it can have a negative effect on those who may be accepted/hired because of these quotas. You can feel guilt or even get mistreated once there. It’s a tricky question.


RS: I would say they’re definitely useful but have not yet been successfully implemented. I know the Courtauld has quotas but it could do more; for example, by awarding full scholarships.


DB: Diversity quotas could be useful to ensure an equality of opportunity in a fast, direct manner; however, they seem to patronise and undermine those who are a minority, making them feel like their talents aren’t being recognised and are instead fulfilling a quota. They don’t tackle inequality themselves and can be quite superficial, with no momentum behind them to change the issues within the institutions (Bias, racism, sexism etc).

HOW MUCH RESPONSIBILITY DO YOU THINK LECTURERS AND FACULTY STAFF HAVE FOR ENSURING REPRESENTATION IN THEIR INSTITUTION? OR IS IT JUST DOWN TO THE TRUSTEES THAT THERE ARE FAILURES? 

A: I think it’s all down to the people that are hiring/interviewing the potential staff/students. I think it’s the responsibilities of the lecturers, faculty staff and the trustees - a university runs smoothly when all parts of the machine work together to create a safe and inclusive environment. In the end though I feel like the trustees can be blamed, because it’s not all about who they let in, it’s also about promoting the university to the disadvantaged potential students that may not know what UAL is and believe/are told they won’t be able to get in. 


RS: I think most decisions do come from the top, so it is mainly the responsibility of the trustees. However, pressure on them for change can come from the rest of the university, so it certainly is something we should all (staff and students alike) be expecting. I think the whole Courtauld Connects project is trying to open up the institution, but I am unsure as to whether it will be successful or not. 


DB: I do not believe it is down to faculty staff and lecturers to ensure representation within their institutions; however, they should be conscientious and re-evaluate how accessible their interactions are to students and others. I have frequently found myself lacking cultural capital regarding specific topics, industries and environments. The lecturers and faculty staff assume I understand specific cultural references, which results in me feeling like my experience, voice and knowledge is irrelevant.


I also think that people from 'more stable' financial backgrounds don’t just have a different economic capital but also have a stronger social and cultural capital - meaning they have better knowledge of the arts and the university system, they have more contacts and know the ‘proper’ language of the art world.
- Anonymous

A LOT OF UNIVERSITIES NOW HIGHLIGHT HOW THEY’RE DOING THEIR BEST IN PROVIDING OPPORTUNITIES FOR STUDENTS THAT MIGHT NOT HAVE THE SAME CHANCES AS ONES FROM UPPER CLASS BACKGROUNDS. FOR EXAMPLE, THE COURTAULD HOSTS NETWORKING EVENTS FOR STUDENTS TO GET TO KNOW PEOPLE IN THE REAL WORLD AND CREATE THEIR OWN CONNECTIONS. IN FACT, HAVING CONNECTIONS IN THE ART WORLD IS SOMETIMES HIGHLIGHTED AS A CRUCIAL WAY TO GET A FOOT IN IT. WHAT ARE WAYS IN WHICH YOUR UNIVERSITY HAS TRIED CREATING A FAIR SPACE FOR ALL STUDENTS TO HAVE MORE ACCESS TO THE ART WORLD?  

A: Honestly, I feel like my university has done a little bit to help people create connections in the art world, but not as much as they should. During my first year, there were a few lectures/events that you could attend but they weren’t targeted at creating a fair space for students to get more access, it was more just an inciddental thing. To the best of my knowledge, the only thing they run is job/creative opportunities fairs/workshops which are limited. Sometimes we have visiting lecturers to speak to and have tutorials with, so this allows us to meet people, but again, not in a formal, creating contacts capacity. 


RS: There’s a new careers mentoring programme but it hasn’t been implemented in more than a pilot stage. Networking events are available, but not frequently. I think the many connections of our lecturers and the large alumni network could be utilized more effectively.


DB: - The university supplies me with £1000 halfway through the academic year that is for students who are within receipt of full state funding support.

- The university promised a Erasmus exchange and singular term exchange available to all students.

- Opportunities such as Tate Exchange facilitate for students to work within industry.

- They offer a University Hardship Fund, to help students in financial need.


There is nothing in place that I have been offered that directly helps working class students access the same opportunities as higher class peers or those who have contacts in the industry because of their family.

HOW EFFECTIVE HAS THIS BEEN FOR PEOPLE WITH NO CONNECTIONS DUE TO THEIR FINANCIAL BACKGROUND OR SOCIAL CLASS?

A: I think I may have covered this in the above answer, but I don’t think it's been effective, personally I have been put off working in the arts since starting an art degree. I do feel like my financial background limits me. I have limited language, knowledge, experience and limited academic/financial support when it comes to studying and being able to do things outside of uni. I feel that people come to art universities to create connections with people and we haven’t done that, other than between our peer group. 


RS: Networking events make sense, but I feel that students from normal backgrounds often do not have the confidence or conversational know-how required to make the most of these events. I have noticed that those from educated and wealthy backgrounds seem to know exactly what to say to those at networking events, which creates a bit of disparity. 


DB: - The £1000 bursary makes a slight difference for me personally, as it provides more economical backing to be enabled to visit galleries, exhibitions and travel to private viewings. It does not help with connections, instead supports students financially. However, without other bursaries I had independently sourced I would not be able to use this money for extracurricular activities and would be heavily reliant on the funds to live and I would be again at a disadvantage culturally.

- What wasn’t mentioned with both exchange programs was that 2-6 students in the year were able to do the exchange. In a year of over 1000 it is extremely unlikely for students to achieve this. Second year students typically privately rent accommodation, meaning they usually have a 12 month contract to pay for in London . With this in mind, I found myself reluctant to even apply to the exchange programs as I would have to finance two rents with an already strained student loan which is already being divided more so than the previous year, due to halls having a 10 month contract.  I would have to self-fund travel expenses. Being from a single parent family, I cannot rely or access additional financial help that would enable me to take part in these fantastic opportunities. Further bursaries were set in place, but do not cover all the expenses needed to finance such a commitment. This is the same with the DPS opportunity the university supplies, I would need to have paid internships and jobs to fund a whole year of work in industries whereas those with higher class backgrounds don’t feel as much pressure and can volunteer, as their families can afford to pay one of their rents / give them money to live and be in both places.

- The Tate Exchange is a positive way for students to actively engage within industries, as they are part of a larger body of students; this is something everyone has an opportunity to do, from all classes. However, it is planned in the first month of uni, where students are settling and they may find it too overwhelming to participate.

- The hardship fund has the same benefits as the bursary, by attempting to overcompensate for class divides through giving money. This helps bridge the gap ever so slightly by providing more access to such events; however, this does not help with connections either.


CONSIDERING THAT THE MAJORITY OF THE SPONSORS AND TRUSTEES OF UNIVERSITIES ARE REPRESENTATIVE OF WHITE UPPER CLASS INDIVIDUALS - SUCH AS THE COURTAULD WHICH IS SUPPORTED BY THE ANDREW W. MELLON FOUNDATION WITH GLENN D. LOWRY THE DIRECTOR OF MOMA AS ONE OF THEIR PRIMARY TRUSTEES. DO YOU THINK THIS IDEA OF PRESTIGIOUS INSTITUTIONS FUNDING ONE ANOTHER PLAYS A SIGNIFICANT PART IN THE ISSUES SURROUNDING CLASS REPRESENTATION IN THE ART WORLD?

A: Yes, I do believe it plays a part in the disproportionate class representation because it’s the people that don’t understand the issues that come from being from a lower economic/class background are the ones trying to ‘fix it’. I also think it creates more separation, as it bounces back and forth between the same groups of people; it doesn’t open up places for people from different backgrounds to play a part in the institutions. This means that these institutions are built on the values and norms of the trustees/sponsors that represent only a small part of British society. The arts are meant to be a safe, inclusive space for people to express themselves - how can this be true if not everyone is actually given the opportunity to represent themselves?


RS: I think under the current government and entire economic model you’ve gotta take all the money you can get, no matter how dodgy it is in origin. Maybe it does negatively impact class representation but it’s better than bankruptcy. 

DB: Definitely, By having such sponsors, it provides cultural capital for individuals to talk about. If you aren’t a white, middle class person, people assume you aren’t as accustomed / exposed to higher institutions, as the jobs of people surrounding you aren’t within these areas, meaning you may not aim as high or not feel welcomed to join them.

Watching opportunities arise that you do not have access to can make you feel very isolated, especially in an environment that does not seem to offer support for and acknowledge any divides. You want to feel like you can talk about how deeply embedded the strain of being working class in an upper class university is, but it is exhausting when others are from completely different worlds and simply cannot relate.
- Daisy Brown

WHILE ART INSTITUTIONS DO HIGHLIGHT HOW THEY PROVIDE SUPPORT TO ALL DIFFERENT STUDENTS FROM DIFFERENT FINANCIAL BACKGROUNDS, AMONG STUDENTS THEMSELVES, A BIG DIVIDE IS SOMETIMES CREATED.  DURING YOUR UNIVERSITY EXPERIENCE, HAVE THERE BEEN WAYS IN WHICH YOU HAVE NOTICED OR MADE AWARE OF THE UNEQUAL FINANCIAL BACKGROUNDS THAT EXIST IN YOUR INSTITUTION? 

A: I have been made aware of the aware of the unequal financial backgrounds or noticed them when tutors/lectures bring up certain topics such as travelling, popular exhibitions, past experience and the mediums that students have worked with.  I think personally I noticed it when people have already had experience with certain art processes; as someone from an underfunded school/college, the access to specialist equipment was basically non existent. The tutors sometimes expect people to be able to spend a lot of money on their practice, which isn’t always the case, and I think it’s because they presume that most students are from a more ‘stable’ financial background. I also think that people from 'more stable' financial backgrounds don’t just have a different economic capital but also have a stronger social and cultural capital - meaning they have better knowledge of the arts and the university system, they have more contacts and know the ‘proper’ language of the art world. This can be sometimes be quite clear when tutors bring up the topics mentioned before.


RS: I don’t think so – I have some very wealthy friends. I think having a bursary has really helped in this because it gives me that little bit of disposable income that allows me to feel a little more adjusted to their lifestyles. Generally I don’t think the wealthier students are hostile, but you’re bound to notice little differences that make you feel a bit shabby. All in all I’m more grateful for the opportunity the Courtauld has given me to live in London and meet such well educated people – I don’t see any way I could have done this without going to this university.  


DB: Definitely, yes. As mentioned before, the DPS/ Erasmus year had been a big thing that made me aware of inequality of experience based on financial backgrounds. I have little access to the opportunities of others as my family aren’t involved in art scenes as they don’t have time, money or interest in the same subcultural values as the upper class.


With regards to prior education, most people in my friendship group have been privately educated/ home schooled whereas I have been state educated. They would speak about experiences I cannot relate to and opportunities they’ve had by being a part of these institutions.


The largest divide I’ve noticed directly impact me throughout my university experience was finding an eligible guarantor for my flat in London. To be a guarantor for a rental flat in London you had to be earning higher than the average pay for citizens in the uk. This had caused huge upset within my family, as my mother’s full time income was approximately half of what was stated as a secure income to be an eligible guarantor. This resulted in awkward and uncomfortable conversations which often made my parents/family feel inadequate and feeling like they could not  ‘provide’ and support me financially, when they have always tried their hardest. The scale of what we would lose if the flat were to set on fire, for example, was immense and the implications would affect every corner of my family, taking away multiple homes that they have worked their whole livelihoods for. My flatmates' parents are lucky enough to say yes without a bat of an eye, as their rent and expenses are also provided through their parents incomes. This made me really acknowledge the divide of class within my circle of friends and how much further into debt being working class drives you to be, as I am having to pay for this experience through maintenance loans and multiple grants, alongside the huge pressure and impact of being aware that if anything goes wrong, up to four family members' homes are at stake.


DO YOU FEEL AS IF THERE IS A STRONG DIVIDE BETWEEN STUDENTS THAT COME FROM HIGHER-INCOME FAMILIES VERSUS ONES THAT COME FROM LOWER-INCOME ONES? IF SO, HOW? 

A: I don’t think there is a strong divide because no one really discusses their family’s income; I think it’s just who you naturally become friends with and that’s based on your own personal interests, not your family background. I haven’t experienced it in my class environment, but I have experienced it outside; for example, negative responses from people when they find out where I’m from because of its reputation, which can be upsetting. A divide can be created though in education, as some students have to work to be able to support their studies, some students aren’t able to visit home due to the cost of travel and many other factors like what they wear, where they shop for food, if they can spend money on luxuries such as eating/drinking out. 


DB: I would not say the divide is strong; however, I am constantly aware of my class and haven’t met many people from lower income families who are comfortable to talk about it. I believe this is because it is almost taboo to bring up class when it can come across as directly insulting your peers. I find it hard to not form a divide between myself and others, as I can get resentful of how much ‘easier’ someone else’s life has been, and how much more they can take for granted. Watching opportunities arise that you do not have access to can make you feel very isolated, especially in an environment that does not seem to offer support for and acknowledge any divides. You want to feel like you can talk about how deeply embedded the strain of being working class in an upper class university is, but it is exhausting when others are from completely different worlds and simply cannot relate. I am extremely lucky to be surrounded by friends that support and motivate me to talk about our differences in experiences and by doing so, it gives a broader understanding to both sides of the spectrum. I find myself having a bittersweet conflict of pride and embarrassment about my background, but I am lucky enough to have this opportunity and to enter it from a different angle with people who facilitate my growth.