Campus close-up: Goldsmiths, University of London

London institution is famed for its alloy of art and enterprise

February 27, 2014

Source: Rex Features

Oscar hopes: Steve McQueen’s film 12 Years a Slave picked up a slew of nominations for the 86th Academy Awards

When British director Steve McQueen attends the 86th Academy Awards this weekend, he could complete a remarkable hat-trick for his alma mater.

Victory on 2 March for the director of 12 Years a Slave would mean that alumni of Goldsmiths, University of London will have picked up an Oscar, the Turner Prize and the Barclaycard Mercury Prize in the past five months.

The critical acclaim enjoyed by Goldsmiths graduates in many artistic fields – film, art and popular music – has started to focus attention on the college’s role in developing some of the UK’s most lively creative talents, as it did in the 1990s, when Goldsmiths graduates were among the most prominent of the so-called Young British Artists.

Explaining why a certain crop of alumni are doing well in the artistic worlds is difficult, but Goldsmiths warden Pat Loughrey believes that his institution has played a significant part in graduates’ success.

“It is silly to pretend that you can deliver creativity in the same way you do undergraduate dentistry,” said the former producer and BBC executive, who joined Goldsmiths in 2010.

“It’s not something that an institution can will into existence itself, nor is it down to an act of strategic planning, but I think there are some things about Goldsmiths that make it possible,” he added.

The institution’s location in gritty southeast London is important to developing artistic talent, Mr Loughrey believes.

“Being away from the centre is useful – I think it suits the artistic temperament,” he said.

“I’ve never known an artist who wasn’t some kind of outsider, so I think there is something about not being in a leafy urban square in central London that is useful.”

Mr Loughrey has tried to open up Goldsmiths as a venue for cultural events, with public talks, exhibitions or concerts taking place most evenings during term-time.

Students also head out into the surrounding borough of Lewisham with their creative projects. A group of undergraduates recently set up a pop-up record shop in New Cross Road, where they sold their own music and held several gigs.

This type of business-minded creativity is something that Mr Loughrey is keen to encourage in students, with Goldsmiths’ Institute for Creative and Cultural Entrepreneurship focusing on how artists can earn a living.

But every generation of Goldsmiths students has displayed a streak of entrepreneurial spirit alongside creativity, from another art student-turned-director Alfred Hitchcock in the 1910s and artist Graham Sutherland in the 1920s to fashion designer Mary Quant, who studied there in the 1950s, according to Mr Loughrey.

“Damien Hirst is a great creative mind, but he is a tremendous entrepreneur and certainly was when he was a student here,” he said.

“We’re always thinking how we can give our students the skills to get maximum advantage from their own ideas,” he added.

The interaction of arts students with those studying social sciences also plays a role in developing talent, Mr Loughrey believes.

“You have artists rubbing shoulders with social scientists. Add in a high degree of social commitment, and I think that is very good for the artistic temperament,” he said.

Encouraging this type of interdisciplinary engagement is where Goldsmiths has excelled, he continued.

“You often have students who are amazing musicians, but also great computer programmers,” Mr Loughrey said.

“They might be uncomfortable if they have to make a choice between these two things. Here you can be a performer but also work on high-end computing work.”

Combining research in the arts, social science and technology is where Goldsmiths can make its mark, Mr Loughrey argued.

Computer game design staff have recently started working with Imperial College London scientists to create DockIt, an interactive game that could enable its community of players to help “crowd-source” solutions to as-yet-unsolved biological problems. Goldsmiths’ work on art and reading therapy is also well advanced.

Mr Loughrey said: “We have nurtured the creative arts here at Goldsmiths for years, but they can now be applied to real-life problems.”

In numbers

7 alumni of Goldsmiths have won the Turner Prize

jack.grove@tsleducation.com

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