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Kingston students send protest letter against online art school to minister

Kingston University art students have sent a visual protest letter to MP Michelle Donelan, minister for state universities, campaigning for more student support as they enter a second year of lockdown learning.

The ‘Message of Protest’, founded by second year graphic design students Ellis Tree and Ruby Betts, began as the creative project of two close friends, but quickly expanded to include over 25 art students from Plymouth to Glasgow.

The letter expresses the students’ anger and frustration after pandemic-induced closures to studio spaces, as well as a lack of resources that were promised and paid for with their student fees.

Ellis said: “As well as creating a protest message, it felt like we created a community of studio-based learners across the UK.

“It is something we want Michelle to notice but it is also a symbol of community and solidarity with one another.

“It was about realising people had a lot to say and being able to give them a space to say it.

“Online art school can’t survive.”

A MESSAGE OF PROTEST: ‘a bedroom is not a studio’. Picture credits: Ruby Betts

Online learning has been debilitating for many art students, who have been unable to develop the artistic practices and skills that are essential to their craft.

They have also missed out on opportunities to showcase their work to potential employers.

Ellis and Ruby are part of a wider student campaign called ‘What’s Happening KSA’ that, since the start of the pandemic, has been campaigning for greater transparency and student involvement in decisions that shape education at Kingston School of Art.

After joining the ‘What’s Happening KSA’ campaign about three months ago, Ellis and Ruby realised that many of the problems go beyond the capabilities of the university to solve, and so decided to raise the issue with a Department for Education official.

Ruby added: “Unless it comes from the big boss and trickles down nothing is really going to change.”

They used social media to reach art students who were equally frustrated with lockdown learning and encouraged them to submit art pieces to include in the protest letter.  

The letter was made collectively between art students via Zoom and printed using the paper and office printer available in Kingston’s student library.

One student even made her protest letters out of pastry.

Ellis and Ruby said this handmade aspect of the letter neatly symbolises the message of the campaign and the limitations art students have faced with materials.

POSTING DAY: Kingston students drop letter in red post box. Credit: Ruby Betts

‘What’s Happening KSA’ is also a part of the national ‘Pause or Pay’ campaign, a cross-university action group that emerged as a response to the disruption to studio-based learning during the pandemic.

MP Michelle Donelan said: “The Government consults widely on higher education policy and will continue to engage with students and universities on issues which affect them.

“Students on practical and creative courses started returning from the 8th of March, and we will be reviewing options for the timing of the return of all remaining students by the end of the Easter holidays.

“Decisions made will consider the need to protect progress across the wider roadmap out of the pandemic, including the spread of the virus in communities and pressures on the NHS.”

A Kingston University spokesperson said: “Throughout the pandemic, lecturers and the senior leadership team at Kingston School of Art have been working closely with the What’s Happening KSA campaign group to address their questions and reassure them about measures being taken.

“We are incredibly proud of the innovation and diverse approaches our talented students have displayed as they have dealt with the unprecedented challenges the pandemic has posed.

“The university is continuing to work hard to ensure the Government recognises the importance and value of art and design education.”

Feature image credits: Ruby Betts

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