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.

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Phoebe, Clare and Beth (central)

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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 (http://www.crescentarts.co.uk/site/the-art-party/), 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

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