First brushes with the real world

November 20, 1998

Charles Saatchi plans to sell some of his modern art collection to fund bursaries for London's struggling art students.Kate Worsley asked four recent graduates how they would spend the money

Weather's turning nippy now. Your average fine art graduate will be counting herself lucky that at least one bar works on the heater in her Hackney Wick studio. Design students will be overheating at the unsavoury prospect of serving Christmas shoppers in London's most fashionable interiors shops. This first winter after graduation will divide the mass of young hopeful artists into the lucky, the dedicated and the demoralised. And for many it is not talent that makes the difference, but money.

Charles Saatchi's recent announcement that he intends to use profits from the sale of his collection of high-profile Brit-art to fund bursaries for art students at London's golden quartet - Goldsmiths, the Slade, the Royal College of Art and Chelsea - has met a mixed response. There is much talk of provincial resentment: why has Saatchi confined his largesse to the capital's art schools?

The details of who will get what and how have not been finalised - and the sale has yet to take place. But Goldsmiths has already said that it will use the money to fund a Charles Saatchi fellowship from September 1999. "This unique award," they say, "will be presented to one of that year's graduating fine art MA students on the basis of excellence to enable that student to continue the development of his or her work as an independent research fellow at Goldsmiths".

We asked art and design students who graduated from the golden quartet this summer about their transition to the world of work. And about what they would like their colleges to spend Saatchi's money on.

Most were very keen on Goldsmiths' plan to help students carry on developing their work after graduation. Art and design graduates face particular pressures: it is hard to maintain artistic momentum when you need funds for living expenses and to clear debts from your final-year show. A day job leaves even less time.

"That's the thing about doing art degrees," one said. "You're so desperate to be doing your own thing that when you leave you don't even know where to look for the sort of work you want to do. It's scary, so many people I know are doing **** jobs and don't have the time or energy to go make art."

Saatchi's London bias seemed natural to them. Everyone knows the best work comes out of London, one said. All the more reason for London students to get more support.

Rachel Ara, 33, full-time BA fine art, Goldsmiths

Employment: Two days a week in own internet and computer engineering company Monomyth

The show: "In my last two years I made a short 16mm film, Monomyth, that's doing quite well. It's been at Berlin, France, and at the Lux again."

The work: "It was a relief to leave college. The trek to college and the politics there were becoming a hindrance. I want to work uninfluenced."

The money: "I can manage because my IT skills and 14 years' experience mean I can charge in a day what most people earn in a month. As a mature student I've supported myself by working, a Pounds 6,000 student loan and a grant. Since I was 18 I did IT in the City until made redundant, which paid for my foundation course."

Saatchi bursary: "I'm managing OK because I had marketable skills, but it would make a difference for younger people. But it's apparent that half the people on the course come from wealthy families."

What colleges can do to help: "Goldsmiths really develops your self-sufficiency. Other colleges are more sheltered, but observing what goes on at Goldsmiths gives you a good insight into the art world, which is similar to the City. In both you are going to have problems working as a woman, and you're going to get on if you spend more time promoting yourself than on the work."

Sophie Howard-Jones, 22, Chelsea textiles BA

Employment:Full-time weave designer, East Central Studios London

What about the art? "You spend three years being told 'be creative, develop your own style', then you start work and they say 'be creative, but design things for 50-year-old men'."

The show "It looked really lovely, but the invites could have been sent to more of the right people. I don't think anybody made many contacts. The show for designers and big companies was on the same night as the Royal College of Art's. It was desperately quiet. And it was very expensive. You don't foresee the costs: portfolios, equipment, getting photos blown up. Everyone struggled and had to cut corners."

The work: "I was really jammy and got a job before the show. When my external examiner marked my final-year work he offered me a job on the spot. But a lot of people are working in the fabric department at Heals and getting abuse from snotty customers who say: 'You were at college for three years, what are you doing working in a shop?'" The money: "In your third year, you don't have the time to work outside college. I was working all weekend, 10-8 at college and at home. I had a huge debt, and I'm still skint now. I get Pounds 14,500, which is really good: most junior design jobs offer Pounds 8,000 and you can't live in London on that."

Saatchi bursary: "Money for your degree show would help the most. But a larger amount, Pounds 10,000, after you've left would be ideal to give you a breathing space to find work."

What colleges can do to help: "More emphasis should be put on inviting the right people to the show. They left it very late. We did one project with other people, but more of those would have helped. You also do loads of projects where you do trial designs for companies, but you are never prepared for how weird it is working."

Tamsin Morse, 22, Slade BA painting

Employment: Secretarial temping three days a week

What about the art? "I was one of very few who sold all my work, and it made me feel positive. This year is going to be crucial."

The show: "I sold all the work from my show, so I could rent a studio over the summer and pay some debts, but I still owe Pounds 10,000. I put some aside for January, when I will have to concentrate on my work. I got invites to do a group show, to several galleries and two commissions."

The work: "If I don't produce the work now I might as well forget my career. I work to make the money to make the work. I go to my studio every night after work, at weekends, and on days off."

The money: "I went straight into full-time secretarial temping to try to clear my debts. But my studio was too far away to go after work, and at the weekends I was exhausted. If I work part-time I have more time for my work, but then I spend more on materials. I'm lucky to have a bit of support - my parents pay my rent on my studio until January. The student loan people want Pounds 250 a month, but if I was paying that I would have only Pounds 100 a month to live on after rent."

Saatchi bursary: "It would really have helped. The worst point was when I'd just left, trying to juggle under immense pressure to produce work. It would have given me the freedom to work.

What colleges can do to help: "Encourage you while you are at college to go to private views and network. Teach you how to find money to support yourself. The Slade isn't very good at telling you where the competitions and scholarships are."

Adam Burge, 28, MFA sculpture graduate, Slade School. Employment:Full-time delivery driver

What about the art? "It's been bloody awful since leaving college. I wasn't going to phone you back because I thought I owed you money."

The show: "My show was uneventful. But I sold some stuff just before, which paid for it."

The work: "As soon as you leave, it's a freefall. Studio space in London is at a premium. I spent the first three weeks in a storeroom. Then three months in a room without even a light bulb. I've just been evicted and moved back into the storeroom. It costs E300 a month."

The money: "I got a Pounds 1,400 travel bursary to go to Italy, but it got swallowed by my student debts. Full-time work is a juggling act. I work eight hours, cycle home to eat, cycle to the studio for four hours, cycle home."

Saatchi bursary: "Give it to graduates. That sort of cash when you leave can make a big difference: Pounds 2,500 each to four students would enable them to make the transition from student to practising artist."

Do the London quartet deserve it? "Yes. It would be far better spent in London colleges because London has the most accomplished students. You'd be wasting the money in provincial colleges."

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