Design students protest online art school with a book of protest signs

“We are not getting our money’s worth, we are not getting what we came here for” – A Message of Protest campaign says online creative courses cannot provide a sufficient arts-based education.

10 May 2021

Student activist project A Message of Protest is objecting to art school going digital via poignantly handmade means. Started by two graphic design students from Kingston School of Art, Ruby Betts and Ellis Tree, the book collates protest signs made by arts students around the UK campaigning against the enforced online art school experience. Prompted by the the government’s third lockdown announcement in January, and then their university’s decision to move all learning online for the foreseeable future, the duo worked with local student-run campaign group @whats_happening_ksa, and the wider national campaign group @pauseorpayuk to action a callout for submissions. Once collated and printed, the book was sent to Michelle Donelan MP, minister of state for universities.

“We believe it is a significant representation of how art students are feeling everywhere,” Betts tells us. “We feel, as studio based learners, that online art school cannot provide a sufficient arts-based education.” The posters encapsulate the home learning experience for many creative students, expressing their frustration at the loss of a studio-based education – and its facilities and resources – with relatable and emotive statements such as “A bedroom is not a studio,” “Student or cashcow,” and “I don’t want an empty degree”.

Students from Falmouth to Glasgow responded to the callout, and the book was produced while working in strict lockdown with no access to studios, workshops or materials, hence made with materials at the organiser’s disposal: the university’s academic library paper and printer, an envelope, some thread and a first class stamp. The book’s introduction reads: “This protest in print is a visual reflection of the impact the government’s inadequate response to Covid-19 has had on our education and practices. We have collected these student voices to stand together in solidarity in resistance to the decision to make art schools go online. Online art school cannot provide studio space, technical equipment, printing and making resources or a workshop space. We are not getting our moneys worth, we are not getting what we came here for.”

Betts adds that they hoped the project would raise awareness but also provide a sense of community among UK arts students. In addition to the book, the organisers have plans for the signs to be exhibited at a number of shows in London.

GalleryRuby Betts and Ellis Tree: A Message of Protest (Copyright © Ruby Betts and Ellis Tree, 2021)

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Ruby Betts and Ellis Tree: A Message of Protest (Copyright © Ruby Betts and Ellis Tree, 2021)

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Jenny Brewer

Jenny oversees our editorial output across work, news and features. She was previously It’s Nice That's news editor. Get in touch with any big creative stories, tips, pitches, news and opinions, or questions about all things editorial.

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