Divercity Arts Project was a 2 week programme delivered by Diversity Matters, which offered students who felt marginalised or from lower-income house-holds an empowering opportunity to attend workshops, be mentored by industry creative professionals, create works for sale and gain enterprise skills by selling at Camden Market over a weekend!
Students were encouraged to explore their cultural intersections, often ignored or suppressed in favour of a Eurocentric curriculum taught in Higher Education institutions. 16 students from University of the Arts London (UAL), majority of which identified as BAME (Black and Minority Ethnic), formed into 3 groups and received a grant of £500 per group to cover costs of items created for sale . What’s more, The Big Draw offered the winning team (the team with the highest earnings at Camden Market) a sales platform in their online shop!
“(I most enjoyed) networking similar minded people my age” Ridgeway, Diversity Arts Project participant
“I enjoyed the process of making my own merchandise and the chance to sell my product which is something I had never done before” – Shaequan, Diversity Arts Project participant
“As a new graduate from camberwell college of arts, I’ve found pricing my work the most difficult. During my degree there was little talk as to how to price work, so as I’m starting my career this was a great insider on how to start thinking about this” Rhian Spencer, Diversity Arts Project participant
UAL Careers and Employability interviewed Kai Lutterodt, founder of Diversity Matters who pitched the DiverCity Arts Project initiative which took place in July 2016.
Why did you set up Divercity Arts Project?
I set up Diversity Arts Project due to feeling frustrated about the lack of enterprise opportunities targeted towards BAME (Black and Minority Ethnic) students. I noticed that the publicity offering grants and such opportunities which should be reaching marginalised students – especially BAME students to help bridge the attainment gap almost always had a dominant white, or a “white-passing” BAME person as the face of the promotional material – so no one who looked like me. The problem with that is, you get the same types of students applying for these opportunities because they are reflected in the advertising, and therefore segregate groups of “other” students who walk pass these posters unaware its applicable to them. I highlighted this problem, and suggested that the publicity needs to reach a more diverse demographic of students, otherwise BAME students will continue to feel marginalised and discriminated against, which I feel has a direct correlation with the attainment gap). Students were encouraged to allow their cultural heritage shine through in their work. Something often discouraged in favour of Eurocentric perspectives on courses. The outcome of the products produced showcased this diversity; from paper origami wallets inspired by Japan to self-portrait prints of a participant exploring her Amazonian heritage.
“The opportunity to meet and work with other BAME students across the University colleges” – Rhian Spencer on he most enjoyed about Divercity Arts Project
“It is rare to meet other course students and work together for 2 weeks. We were able to make deeper relationship.” Diversity Arts Project participantWhat happened during the project?
The project was a take on ‘The Apprentice’; each team had to plan, create items and aim to sell the most, taking into account everything learnt during the workshops about branding, target audience and pricing. Teams get to keep all earnings made, and the winning team that sold the most at Camden Market is given an online selling platform with The Big Draw; the world’s largest drawing festival. This is a great foot in the door for any emerging artist to have an opportunity to sell their work in an established platform. I think an element of “healthy” competition is a good thing as it motivates participants to go that extra mile – especially since there’s a great prize at the end!
Workshops were held at London College of Communication. During the first week were joined by artist Riccardo Girardi, who gave drawing technique workshops, Roshnee Desai, a multi-media designer and motion film artist from India who gave workshops on branding and marketing, and Melodie Holliday, artist and UAL Foundation Course tutor, supported students throughout the workshops. We also had a representative from Careers and Employability join us to give advice on pricing work, an element which the majority of participants found most useful.
The workshop about how much to sell your work because it was very informative and made me think about the value of my work differently and how it would be looked at from a different range of people” Kourtney, Diversity Arts Project participant on the workshop he found most useful.
First day workshop about business. Because I learnt something new which I have never known.” Yumi, Diversity Arts Project participant on workshop she found most usefulThe second week of the project allowed participants flexibility to produce work, plan their stalls, and put everything learnt to practice in preparation for the market. As well as that, we had our final two workshops with Roshnee Desai, where participants would role-play and practice their selling techniques for the stall. A representative from The Big Draw came to take pictures and interview some of the participants and also Tessa Read from Careers and Employability got to see students engaging in the project.
A highlight of the second week was an event I organised for Graduates Futures Week; ‘SheCreates – Women of colour in graphic design and illustration’. It was a great coinciding event to incorporate with Divercity Arts Project hearing the experiences of three successful BAME women on how they started out in the industry. I’ve since been inspired to set up a collective called “She Creates:”; a networking collective of creative women. I think as artists, especially as artists of colour, it’s very important we establish a support system so there is a platform available whether it’s venting frustrations or sharing opportunties. We need that encouragement – that extra boost.
How do you think students developed enterprise skills?
An ice-breaker into the project was the presentation workshop where everyone had to basically “sell themselves”; present their skills, strengths and showcase why they would be a strong team member. Confidence plays an important role in enterprise skills, and I think being able to present yourself well is an important factor. This was also reflected at Camden Market where each team member got had to present themselves to the general public. It was encouraging to see participants grow in confidence and adjust to working in groups, especially those who might have felt out of their comfort zone.
“Creating and then selling things in Camden Market, as this time I was on the other side of the stall which gave me a chance to experience maybe the lifestyle of either an artist, seller, entrepreneur etc may go through or start of with on a daily basis. It was also good to connect with shoppers and a chance to show what we do” Amanda, Diversity Arts Project participant on what she most enjoyed about the project.
Working in groups made processes less dounting, and evened out the responsibility. It’s been proven that it’s often not “what you know” – but “who you know” that lands you the job or gig, so establishing contacts and for many, friendships, during this short course was important.
“(I most enjoyed) learning new tangible skills and networking with like minded people” Kevin, Diversity Arts Project participant
“Assisting Students with their ideas and nurturing confidence” – Melodie Holliday, Diversity Arts Project facilitator on what she most enjoyed about the project
What do you think students got out of the project?
I think students, myself included, took away an amazing opportunity to test out our ideas – with nothing to lose! For most emerging artists starting out, they invest a small fortune in market research, manufacturing, renting space etc. We got a taster of the various elements in being a startup – and it was fully funded. A few students have expressed interest in becoming a collective, so we can support each other when there are any other sales opportunities. We’ve also learnt that being a freelance requires more than just “passion” or “free will”. There’s a lot of research that goes into having a good product that people want to buy. Camden Market was a good experience, even if the audience was necessarily right for the sort of “conscious” work we produced. We tested out the market (quite literally) and have a better idea exactly who our audience is and where we can find them.
For me, I took away “people managing” skills. An aspect of the project I hadn’t considered I’d develop. Managing 16 strong willed artists was a challenge for me which I managed to overcome through delegation and staying positive.
“Getting to test out selling at a market stall as I’ve never done that before and meeting new people” Steffi, Diversity Arts Project participant on what she enjoyed most about the project
“The making of the work and selling it at the stalls because it allowed me to showcase my work to the outside world, rather than being stuck in the studio” Kourtney, Diversity Arts Project participant on what he enjoyed most about the project
“networking similar minded people my age” Ridgeway, Diversity Arts Project on what he enjoyed most about the project
What was the response from the audience at Camden?
Working at Camden Lock was a surreal experience. Stalls for casual traders are given on a first-come-first-serve bases, so we had to be there by 8am – like everyone else (no special arrangements for being linked to UAL). By 9am we were setting up for a 10am start. Presentation of the stall was really important to attract an audience to look at the items on sale. I tried to play with various eye-levels so items weren’t flat on the table. Once someone expressed an interest, that was usually an opportunity to hook them further by explaining about the project and why we were there.
Those who bought from our stalls either generally wanted to support the cause (diversity or emerging artists), or liked what they saw and made impulse buys, sometimes without even asking for the price. However we also had a lot of tourists “just looking” which at times was disheartening when they didn’t buy anything. The nice surprises were speaking to tourists who were inspired by Diversity Matters and offered some sort of collaboration suggestions in their country! Sometimes you just have to be at the right place at the right time – you never know who you might meet.
What was also interesting about our experience at Camden Market was recollecting Roshnee’s workshop on branding and ‘knowing your target audience’. Many participants had responded with ‘everyone‘ as their audience – Camden quickly proved that our target audience was not everyone. That was an insight to consider and think about in future. I think the most important thing we got out of this was the actual hand-on selling experience. We can put on our CV’s that we traded at Camden Market – one of the world’s most famous Markets!
“Roshnee’s sessions (were most useful) because it gave me more understanding into the selling and business world as its not just ‘make and sell and everyone will buy’, you have to know who your target is, will this be the right product for this area? Watch how much you’re spending so you stay within the limit” Amanda, Diversity Arts Project participant
“(A highlight of the project was) watching some willingly purchase something I had designed” Shaequan, Diversity Arts Project participant
Why do you think this project is important?
This project is important for many reasons. It’s an example of channeling what started off as negative emotions (feeing frustrated from lack of representation and opportunities targeted at BAME students), into something positive which has benefited 16 other students who were feeling similarly to I was. Just complaining about lack of opportunities without offering solutions doesn’t really bring any changes. Neither does suffering in silence.
What I liked about this project is that we went beyond barriers; involving representatives who are UAL alumni and international (I didn’t want the fact that Roshnee lives and works in India, to stop her from being part of this project). I think it’s important for UAL and universities in general to keep in touch with their international alumni, especial those from the ‘Global South’. They are the ones changing things ‘back home’ – they are the innovators!
Riccardo, who’s a renowned fine artist back in Italy, felt his lack of English was a barrier, as he struggled to communicate at times however his work spoke for itself. Also having Melodie Holliday, the current editor at Shades of Noir and recent UAL Teaching awardee on the project further emphasised the importance of representation. I’m thankful to have had Careers and Employability, as well as my mentors, support me with this project.
What I take out of this is the attitude to “create your own opportunities” – don’t expect it to be handed to you – be enterprising, innovative and propose ideas. It’s been a challenging experience and was a lot harder than I expected keeping 16 people with different ideas, motivated, committed and also understand that this opportunity wasn’t just handed to us i.e make the most of it! Overall, it’s been a brilliant experience to meet 16 amazing emerging artists who I’ve had a chance to work and collaborate with… I look forward to planning the Winter Divercity Arts Project!
We’re looking to roll out the DiverCity Arts Project initiative again in 2018 to education establishments and community groups across the UK. Find out more about Diversity Matters and Divercity Arts Project at http://www.diversity-matters.org.uk or email us firstname.lastname@example.org