Student art prize 2022/23

By and

After its launch in 2019, Durham University’s Student Art Prize is now in its fourth year. The initiative was set up to expand artistic opportunities within the university and to build a new permanent art collection. In a university which doesn’t teach fine art, the Student Art Prize is hugely important as it provides students with the ability to exercise their artistic skills and explore various creative outlets. Each year, the prize has adopted a different theme which not only gives the student applicants a focus in terms of subject matter, but also a starting point on which they can develop their concepts and work. This year’s theme is “Sanctuary”, but in the past, themes have included “Diversity”, “Heroism” and “Hidden”.

Durham University’s Student Art Prize launch party on 2 November served as a reminder as to why I chose to be a Visual Arts editor. From artist workshops to speeches delivered by guest speakers, this event was nothing short of admirable in the way it championed student art and artists from across all departments, backgrounds and specialisms.

The option of both in-person and online tickets for this event reinstated the prize’s pursuit of inclusivity and accessibility, spreading the message of this initiative far and wide.

Richard Roberts, the prize’s founding sponsor, delivered an illuminating speech in which he spoke of the intention to create a space where student artists can flourish and not be overshadowed by traditionally academic practices. The potential of being displayed alongside professional artists is a sentiment which proves Durham’s student artists’ talents are appreciated and valued. Hearing speeches from guest speakers on what Sanctuary means to them extended the conversation further, covering both the values of art and the artists themselves.

Jill Cole, director of ‘Northern Heartlands’ spoke about the charity’s work, where they provide a free and safe space for vulnerable people to open up and explore their creative potential. Claire Webster Saaremets, artistic director and founder of ‘Skimstone Arts’, took the conversation towards the need for diversity. She spoke about the organisation’s aim of supporting marginalised artists, creating a space in which they feel included within the art sphere. Overall, the launch party affirmed that student art matters, and I have no doubt that there will be a selection of absolutely sensational works derived from the theme of Sanctuary.

Our annual Student Art Prize was initiated in 2019 to support student creativity, providing a platform for access to art

In Conversation with Ælfred Hillman, President of the Durham University Art Society, 2022/23

Q: What do you think of this year’s theme of ‘Sanctuary’?

A: “I am particularly excited about this year’s theme as I believe it may be the first truly non-visual prompt we have had. Heroism came with the baggage of motifs and propagandist symbols, whilst ‘Hidden’ demanded some consideration of visual exclusion. By comparison, ‘Sanctuary’ seems truly abstract, emotionally charged but still open to limitless visual and material realisations.”

Q: Why is it important to champion student artists?

A: “Creating art is a solitary and isolating pursuit. Experimenting and producing work can often seem more akin with academic routine than the hyper-social activities of sport and theatre that usually make up university life. Consequently, the Student Art Prize plays a fundamental role in allowing students to communicate their unique creative outlooks through a shared field, responding to an abstract theme in any way they see fit.

I hope this year’s judges continue to celebrate experimentation, even in its scruffiest and most rudimentary forms. Through doing so, those with limited art materials will be allowed access and more people will be able to engage with the competition.”

Q: As someone who has submitted work in the past, what advice would you give to prospective applicants?

A: “I would encourage this years students to not let their own tastes be concealed. The theme is merely a starting block for creative expression. If you’re interested in applying, you should not censor your work in the fear that you are not articulating what you think the judges want to see.”

We want to break down these barriers and provide a space for creative development and support

In Conversation with Alix Collingwood-Swinburn, Curator of Contemporary Art

“As a university that doesn’t teach practical art through our formal education programmes, our annual Student Art Prize was initiated in 2019 to support student creativity, providing a platform for access to art.

The Art Prize is open to any Durham student; I speak to so many students who wouldn’t view themselves as artists because they are studying an academic subject. We want to break down these barriers and provide a space for creative development and support.

Most importantly, the prize (and our free ‘Art School’ programme of talks and artist workshops) offers students a unique opportunity to develop their artistic practices, share and learn with other artists, exhibit in a curated exhibition, and potentially win cash prizes.”

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