Opening the studio doors

LCF Studio at JPSAs a foundation student, (many moons ago), I was encouraged to wander the studio spaces at every opportunity. I wasn’t always welcomed with open arms, but it was understood that this was a right to be exercised in art school. Sometimes, the 3rd-year students would even talk to me!

Fast-forward (gulp) nearly thirty years to UAL and such encounters are not always so easy to come by. Operating in the middle of London, space and security issues close down some of the opportunities to see what’s going on outside your own course ‘silo’ – for both staff and students. It’s particularly challenging in London College of Fashion, operating across numerous sites. Given these physical limitations, what role might digital spaces play in bringing us together?

Of course, the ‘virtual’ can eliminate distance – finding out what’s happening in the studios at Mare Street becomes a virtual hop, skip and jump rather than a trek across town. Yet it also creates a separation that paradoxically may make it easier to critically engage with the work of a fellow student. Castro (2012) argues that in the online space, you can linger longer over an image than might be comfortable if the artist was standing next to you. He also contends that this separation makes it easier for the viewer to provide feedback. The idea that online can amplify engagement between a community of artists is a theme expanded on by Budge, (2012), who examined the relationships between artists who blog. Budge discovered individual practitioners bound by a system of mutual support and sharing of practice. She argues that students should be encouraged to engage with these wider practitioner communities and enculturate into more ‘socially wise’ forms of creativity.

Just as the studio space is open (in a way that a classroom is not) to people who may not be directly involved in the class, so the learning environment needs to be open to students across their levels and modules, into spaces which can be owned and utilized by them.

Renton et al. (2008)

As Renton et al. (2008) state in the quote above, online spaces need to be developed which allow both staff and students to cross the boundaries between courses. The University’s VLE, Moodle, attempts to break down some of these boundaries through shared ‘Course’ and ‘Programme’ spaces. As our use of Moodle matures, it will be interesting to see how we might emerge from the trenches and inhabit these spaces. But we also need to cross the no-mans land between programmes, schools, colleges and even beyond the institution. The innovative #PHONAR project, (Worth, 2012), straddles the walls of the institution by allowing the public to join the undergraduate photography course at Coventry University.

#Phonar - Open photography project at Coventry University

#Phonar – Open photography project at Coventry University

It seems there are a range of interactions which might be facilitated through digital spaces, from formal collaborations through to fortuitous encounters. In a previous post on Digital Present, Sarah Kante describes some of the collaborations in ‘Physical and digital spaces enabling openness and collaboration’.


Interesting links and references

Budge, K. (2012) ‘Art and Design Blogs: a Socially-Wise Approach to Creativity’, International Journal of Art & Design, vol. 31 no. 1 pp44-53 [Online]. DOI: 10.1111/j.1476-8070.2012.01713.x

Renton, L., Flint, R. and Shave, T. (2008) ‘The Reflexive Archive: contexts of practice in art and design’, York, U.K. Higher Education Academy. Available at

Worth, J. (2012) ‘Coventry University – opening up the BA Hons Photography course’ [Online]. Available at