The Art Party: Photographs

The Art Party Conference 2013
Initiated by Bob & Roberta Smith and Crescent Arts

Podium Arts Group developed a participatory project, shown at The Art Party Conference, to initiate and facilitate discussion around arts education and collated thoughts and opinions from participants which will be archived in the form of a publication.












The Art Party Conference, Podium Arts Group. Photographs: Phoebe Eustance


Take a Stand. The Art Party Conference 2013

Take a Stand
The Art Party Conference
23rd November

This project builds on the symposium we organised at university, we are responding to some of the discussions and talks by speakers including Andrew McGettigan, Steve Pool and Kate Genever, which took place during the symposium. Questions posed at this symposium were on the value of art and “How am I equipped to be of use?”

As recent graduates of Fine Art we are questioning the place of art and artists and how we contribute to society. We wish to continue to build a socially engaged and collaborative practice.

We have been invited to create a piece for Art Party Conference, Scarborough. This new participatory work responds to current concerns about the value of the arts and arts education in a time of financial crisis. As such we have specially commissioned a ‘market stall’ to be constructed. Its multiple functions will encourage conversation and public announcements. We will offer our skills to audience members free of charge. We request, in return, people share their skills and knowledge with us. We are interested in reaching diverse audiences and so will install this work in other venues as a touring project.

Design for Oratory Structures, Phoebe Eustance

Art Party Conference website:
More about the piece:
Crescent Arts:
The Spa Scarborough:


Threadneedle Prize 2013 and the winner is… Clare McCormack!

We are delighted that Podium artist Clare McCormack has won the Threadneedle Prize 2013 with her degree show piece Dead Labour / Dead Labourer, Scaffolding Plank Woodblock 185cm x 100cm
If you are in London within the next couple of months go and check out the exhibition at the Mall Galleries! You can also vote for her piece in the People’s Choice Award.

Go Clare!

Are you equipped to be useful? Issue no.4

Are you equipped to be useful? Issue no.4

Publication produced as a response to our symposium, For What it’s worth: The Relevance of Art Education Today, by Steve Pool and Kate Geneva from Poly-Technic:


Are you equipped to be useful?

Was the question we asked at the University of Leeds Fine Art symposium – For
what its worth: the relevance of art education today. This event,
organised by the students, complimented their final degree show – £383,911.73

We think we were well aware that the question was value laden and open to
interpretation.The responses from the audience were varied and valid. The debate 

essentially focussed not around if people were equipped to be useful, rather should
art be useful? At a time when we are fighting a corner for cultural provision it is
perhaps necessary to expand this question. Could we reframe it and ask “When is it
useful to be useless?” But this too seems like very unstable high ground on which to
build our stockade. Instead we at the Poly-Technic would like to move beyond the
binary of instrumental art, art with a social purpose -socially engaged practice, to
place art back at the heart of the everyday, which reinforces culture as ordinary.
We were of course interested in asking the original question – Are you equipped to be
useful? as a proposition for deep reflection and consideration of talents and skills.

We were asking about being ready and relevant in the wider world – it was never
asked as a critique of the course at Leeds. We, Steve and Kate, have an ambition to
be artists in the world not just the art world and as such the question seemed
pertinent. Believing change is coming we feel we need to prove the value of the arts
in society through action and agency.

What follows are the hand written responses collected after our presentation – it
makes for interesting reading.

This publication will be produced in a limited edition and will not be available for
sale. For a free pdf downloadable version visit:

Finally, we would like thank the students [in particular Clare McCormack, Beth
Cowley and Phoebe Eustance] and staff at the University of Leeds – Fine Art and
wish them good luck for the future.

Kate and Steve
July 2013.

Art & Autonomy


Are we benefitting society?

Do we consider ourselves useful to others?

What can artists do in their practice to produce something meaningful in terms of social and political autonomy?


A degree in fine art provides a space to think. A space to think differently; to question aspects of society and life that people may otherwise take for granted.

Towards the end of our time in the academic institution, after the manic excitement of the degree show had passed there seemed to be a cloud of uncertainty hanging over the school of Fine Art. We had been able to experience the buzz of art and curating exhibitions but we had the space and safety net of academia to carry us through. Without this, people started to question why? Why they were pursuing this path or idea when they could have studied architecture or law got “good” jobs and had an obvious role in society.

These issues and uncertainties were raised and scrutinized in the recent talk and discussion from John Byrne and students from Liverpool John Moores University who have recently published the ‘Manual of Useful Art’. The talk was held at the Whitechapel Gallery in association with their recent exhibition ‘The Spirit of Utopia’, aiming to provoke thought into alternative futures for the economy, the environment and social change enabling the viewer to participate installations and events signifying models for social change. In our current climate these kinds of discussion seem prevalent within the arts, probing at what artists or art can do to help.


‘Autonomy’ was a leading topic in the conversation and described as something that had to be struggled for, collaborated for, and worked hard for. The autonomy project, initiated by John Byrne, grew out of a frustration of how to talk about art and art practice.

In an artistic field, this term (autonomy) finds itself unfortunately wedged between two possibilities: the romantic notion of the isolated Artist, developing works in a studio, unaffected by the socio-political beyond his walls; or the cold reality that to operate within those same socio-political arenas an artist and the mediators involved in a creative action are only there to facilitate public agenda(s) or to smooth social process.

The autonomy project is run by John Byrne (LJMU) Steven ten Thije (Van Abbemuseum) and Clare Butcher (independent curator, South Africa).

It seems there is always a need for validation when it comes to having a career as an artist. A constant pat on the back is required. Many artists tend to exist with a strict set of rules (i.e. artist statements) about what it is they do, often using the same art jargon to compile them, but as Byrne pointed out ‘this business of labels and labelling can become fearfully difficult’. Validation for our art to be meaningful can also translate as validation for our art to be useful. Therefore, it is unfortunate that many artists have become businessmen and see their success commercially.

John Byrne asks the question, ‘is autonomy now just for petty bourgeoisie artists who can run their own business as “artists”?’


The autonomy project and useful arts project has produced many interactive events:

–          Autonomy summer schools were created for emerging artists thinking about the relationship between use value and useful art. The students said these debates started off intellectually and ended on a more practical level.

–          Grizedale Arts, partners of the useful art projects, looked back to John Ruskin and the Mechanics’ Institutions which offered uneducated workers free education.

–          The Mobile Art School symposium sought ideas in how to reinvent art schools and scrutinize what they do and why.

Conclusions from this discussion at Whitechapel Gallery were similar to the conclusions reached at our own symposium, For What It’s Worth: The Relevance of Art Education Today. Art school exists to equip people with tools to go out and think differently in an ever growing instrumental environment.

As artists everything we make is applied and motivated by something urgent and real, so making or doing something that will exist in an active and dynamic way for people is surely one of the purest forms of art. Conversely when art becomes a business for the “petty bourgeoisie” (or “hipsters”) surely it loses that urgency and passion in which the romanticized stereotype of an artist is built upon.


Artists have a sense of urgency which drives what they make and the way that they think. John Byrne’s own sense of urgency came from our time of incredibly pressing political crisis and sees this project as grounding for thinking about addressing the problem and not claiming to have found the solutions. The main problems being how do you open spaces if there isn’t an outside exterior from capitalism?



For What It’s Worth: The Relevance of Art Education Today

As mentioned in the previous post, this blog will document our symposium, For What It’s Worth: The Relevance of Art Education Today. This day provided much of the basis of our work within Podium. Several of the questions asked and points raised throughout the day are ones we will continue to come back to and discuss.


The schedule for the symposium.

Starting off the day was Andrew McGettigan, a writer and researcher who has taught at Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design as well as Westminster and Middlesex universities. Andrew presented us with a talk primarily based on facts surrounding the raised tuition fees, and how the government measured the ‘relevance’ of each degree course. We were surprised to learn from him that 34% of loans are currently not repaid, and that there is a huge gap between genders in loan repayments – it has been predicted that 54% of what is loaned to female students will not be repaid, whereas 87% of what men borrow is paid back. Fine art graduates are especially unlikely to repay their loans, and it would be interesting to see in the future how much of the £383,911.73 of our total would actually be returned to the government.

Andrew’s talk then lead to a panel discussion which also included Claire Harbottle, a former masters student and photography technician in the fine art department, along with Tina Richardson, who was completing a cultural studies PhD at Leeds and founded the Leeds Psychogeography Group. Both provided interesting insights into life at the university, Claire’s career path gave us an excellent example of how the cuts to universities had affected people, taking up an offer of voluntary redundancy in 2010 and deciding on a career as a midwife instead with her training being funded by an NHS bursary.

The second half of the day involved several speakers who provided examples of how higher education could be found outside of the traditional forms. First to speak were two members of the Free University of Liverpool, who presented their talk as if it was an interview or conversation between the two of them. The university was formed in 2011 after tuition fees were tripled, and work with the principle that education should be free to all and not a privilege for those who can afford it. It is run voluntarily by its staff and tutors and offers a course in BA Cultural Praxis and a foundation degree in Performance and Culture. The speakers talked about their so far short existence and uncertain future. The classes at the university are not necessarily taught by people who would be considered to be qualified by most universities, but are lead more like discussions in which all involved can learn. Many of the students involved are already connected to a university, often by either taking PhD’s or being lecturers, which raises the question of whether this institution would be able to work without more established universities, and if both organisations could successfully exist together.

Grace Harrison, who is also part of the Free University, talked next about her experiences of life during and after higher education. Harrison started the BA Fine Art course at Central St Martins in 2009, but left after just one year, when she had decided that life within this kind of institution did not suit her and that she could find experience of being an artist elsewhere. She described feeling disappointed whilst on the course with how little teaching there was, especially when compared with the amount of money she had spent, a feeling which is likely to be shared with students of higher education courses everywhere. Harrison decided instead to pursue an education gained through experience working on internships, residencies and research projects. She is now part of several artist collectives in London, Leeds and Liverpool and recommended to any members of the audience who were soon to graduate, to avoid the recent culture of working for free in large organisations. Instead she suggested setting up something like a self-organised collective which, from her experience, could be a much more worthwhile experience of the art world.

Our final speakers of the day were Kate Genever and Steve Pool, who are the founders of Poly-Technic, a project based in Sheffield which offers art related courses and opportunities for artists. They work on an idea that knowledge can be found in places and people as well as books and the internet, and create publications based on ideas created through discussion, the next of which they wanted our help with. They asked us the question ‘Are you equipped to be useful?’ for which we individually wrote down answers in smaller groups. The results can be found on their website: (number 4).

For the closing section of the day a panel discussion was formed, which included all the afternoons speakers as well as Richard Bell, who is programme director of the undergraduate Fine Art degree at the University of Leeds. A discussion followed about which route was more relevant to art today, with Richard commenting on his own academic perspective of the place of fine art in higher education, with it generally being decided that these degree courses still provided vital thinking and doing space for future artists and therefore are still necessary.

The thought provoking discussion and debates were carried through until the end of the day and sustained a high level of interest from both the participants and audience. The response and feedback we got from the public was extremely positive with art organisations such as PSL and Pavilion, who were in attendance, commenting on the day as very stimulating. We were left with a huge number of questions which we feel can be taken further through our future projects.


Podium: A Brief History

Podium are a group in which artists act as facilitators for discussion, primarily making a space for people to give opinions about subjects relating to the changing nature of arts education today, the role of the artist in our society and the use value of art. This blog will act as a space to document our work, events we have been involved in, events we have been to and found interesting, and anything else that we find relevant or important.

In its current existence, Podium was started this year, on Sunday 14th July. As two of us were due to leave Leeds, all three of us had graduated and were moving on from life as fine art students, it was decided that we should continue working together as a group. Although, we really started working together sometime in October 2012, when all three members signed up to be part of the Curation Team in our final degree show at the University of Leeds. We all began studying fine art at Leeds in September 2009, and vaguely knew each other in our first year, before working together more closely in our second year. All three took part in Erasmus exchanges as an optional extra third year – Clare in Halle, Germany, Phoebe in Lisbon, Portugal, and Beth in Milan, Italy – and on returning to Leeds began work on the task of curating the degree show

The fine art BA course at Leeds is one of the few in the country where students are given the sole responsibility of organising the degree show from marketing and fundraising to admin and curation. One of the first decisions about the exhibition was what to name it, the most popular suggestion amongst the year group came from Clare who had the idea of naming the show after the sum total of our tuition fees over the three or four years. In light of recent cuts to higher education this seemed like a very relevant title to work with, especially as the range of work from the forty students in the course was so diverse that tuition fees and our status as students was the only commonality. So the whole year went away and calculated what their individual tuition had cost, and it was added together to find the sum of £383,911.73, a slightly terrifying figure, made even more so by the fact that the current first years would be paying three times that amount between them because of the recent rise in undergraduate tuition fees.

degree show poster

The degree show poster.

It was decided early on that we should have a symposium in conjunction with the show, and this large amount of money seemed the obvious starting point for discussion. Several speakers were decided on and invited, and we had a positive response from most who were keen to attend and speak, and were enthusiastic about the topics we were covering. Only a few declined the invitation to speak, including Michael Gove whose assistant diary manager sent a polite letter saying he would be unable to attend, but that he ‘hopes that the event will be a great success.’

A few months of long curation meetings, scribbling on floor plans and reading exhibition proposals later and we were in June, scrubbing floors, painting walls and finishing work in preparation for the degree show opening on June 13th.


Phoebe, Clare and Beth (central)


Initial curation diagram including all artists participating in the exhibition.

The opening night was a success and we got a very good response, from staff, lecturers and other visitors who attended the exhibition, in terms of how it was curated, marketed and generally managed.

We then moved on to the symposium on the 17th which we had decided to call For What It’s Worth: The Relevance of Art Education Today. (See symposium blog for more details)

Following the success of the symposium and inspired by what had been discussed, the three of us decided this should not be the end of our work together and met up two days after our graduation ceremony to discuss applying for future projects as a group. We had heard about Bob and Roberta Smith’s Art Party Conference in collaboration with Crescent Arts in Scarborough (, and decided to apply after finding that so many of the ideas that would be discussed over the course of the day related to what we had been working on.

The name “Podium” came about from a discussion about what it is we do or want to do in terms of future projects. We concluded that we are ‘facilitators’ giving space and a platform for people to exchange opinions, knowledge and skills around the topics of art and education. The piece that has been designed for the Art Party Conference partly acts as a type of podium or platform for public speaking, giving the means for people to ‘take a stand’. Podium represents our role – not to only make work using our own ideas but to provide a platform for people to share their opinions and contribute to a growing discussion.

Beth, Phoebe & Clare

Artists facilitating discourse around the changing nature of arts education in England through projects and installations