Then & Now: Arts at Warwick

From ‘highly confidential’ letters to outrageously honest vintage student publications, my experience with the Arts at Warwick: Then & Now project has been insightful to say the least.

To coincide with the construction of the new Faculty of Arts building, the project was initiated by Dr Kathryn Woods, former Director of Student Experience in the arts faculty, essentially to document and celebrate the history of the Faculty of Arts and student experience at Warwick.

The undergraduates and postgraduates who volunteered were split into teams for interviews, research, and digital media. Initially, the fundamental roles were that the interviewers would be contacting alumni and collating first-hand accounts of Warwick over the decades, researchers would delve through files on the Arts Faculty, and the digital team would present the findings on social media, finally to be culminated in an exhibition, planned ourselves.

The importance of the arts and their resilience in times of crisis must be acknowledged.

Little did we know that circumstances would lead to an entirely online presence, moving our meetings from the Modern Records Centre to Microsoft Teams, holding interviews via Skype, conducting research through digitised resources, creating a website and virtualising our exhibition. The effects of Covid-19 seem endless, however the importance of the arts and their resilience in times of crisis must be acknowledged.

I got involved on a whim after a course-mate brought me to one of the meetings and I saw countless CV boosting opportunities. I had no idea that the project would grow as it has, but I was hooked after coming across a file of mysterious letters regarding the beginnings of my History of Art degree.

History of Art at Warwick has blossomed over the decades to be ranked number 1 in the country by the Guardian University Guide 2019. 

The hefty file in question began with letters from the 70’s, urging the recipient to provide minutes that confirmed the History of Art course actually had approval to go ahead. Had the faculty staff deliberately jumped the gun or were the meeting notes simply forgotten like a true lost work of art? Regardless, History of Art at Warwick has blossomed over the decades to be ranked number 1 in the country by the Guardian University Guide 2019. And yet those meeting notes never were found.

One of the great pros of the project has been the freedom to creatively explore our own interests. A few research themes include Art & Architecture and Student experience, encompassing politics, societies and student publications.

One member has been looking into the evolution of the art on campus.

Pre-lockdown, some of our researchers gained access to the Student Union Archives, finding files upon files of Alternative Student Prospectuses – perhaps the true beginnings of Warwick Love (aka WarwickFessions). One member has been looking into the evolution of the art on campus, networking with Warwick’s art collection curator Sarah Shalgosky, and Matthew Raw, the commissioned artist for the new building. Another gained permission to access the building sites on campus, all in the name of historical documentation, which provided photographic material for an artistic response to our project. Much more is to be revealed in our virtual exhibition, launching Thursday 11th June!

I decided to join the Digital Team in the end to utilise my marketing experience. Through managing the Instagram account, I’ve been conducting market research, sourcing content amongst researchers’ findings and designing graphics that build from the 70’s inspired branding style.

Despite having to move from planning a physical exhibition to going virtual, follower feedback and the commitment from those involved has been testament to the success of the student-led project that has far exceeded my expectations. Digital skills have flourished, with members adjusting to working remotely, to creating an interactive map, and looking into the latest methods and platforms of curation. Personally, never mind what I’ve learned about the scope of the Arts at Warwick, I’ve learned more than I ever knew there was to know about Excel spreadsheets and the world of Microsoft Teams.

You are sure to find your own relatable content across our project.

Those involved with the project have had access to the SU archives, Modern Records Centre, materials such as prospectuses, film, audio, letters and student publications, and the invaluable assistance provided by Modern Records Centre staff Liz Wood (archivist) and Melissa Downing (Widening Participation Officer). Since April, Pierre Botcherby has taken up Kathryn’s leadership role, guiding the students towards the final exhibition.

Regardless of what you study, Faculty of Arts student or otherwise, this project is exciting. Stay updated on our Instagram @artatwarwick or visit the facebook event for more information.

From complaints about buses back in the 70’s or a ‘lack of men’, to stats on arts courses, to student sit-ins across the decades, you are sure to find your own relatable content across our project.

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