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Talking about Employability and Enterprise at CSM with...Caroline Dakers: formerly Course Leader, BA Culture, Criticism and Curation

As a professor of Cultural History, course leader for BA Culture Criticism and Curation and research leader for the Culture and Enterprise programme, Caroline is a key figure within the college. In her ‘talking tour’ of the BA CCC degree show 2014, Caroline shares her experiences of the skills, enterprise and employability offered by the course.

What is your approach to enterprise and employability?

Our degree show presents the talents that our students emerge with from the course and which get them jobs. You will see the variety that we have on this course; students develop skills as writers, both academic and journalistic. There’s a symposium that they’ve been working on, which obviously sets them up with an entirely new set of skills in particular working with the public, with catering, with planning speakers. They’ve also done a lot of collaboration, working with graphic design students to get the designs right. The ‘criticism and curation’ element really comes together in this show and that’s really important for their careers.

Student focus and inter-disciplinary collaboration

This exhibition shows a display of objects and of words, our students currently are very concerned about the future and where the world is going; sustainability and green issues in the world around us. We are looking at the present and looking forward, using work by students from the MA Art and Science course and you can see the results are really positive.

Collaboration is important for the show but also key to many parts of the course, our students are encouraged to work not just with other students but with external bodies. They have to go out and meet students from other colleges, galleries, museums, and scientists – anyone that can help broaden their skill-set and knowledge; this show really links in with that.

What career paths do you expect your students to go into upon graduation?

Masters degrees

Some of them go into masters courses but they are incredibly varied, we have had students over the years who have gone on to do courses in social anthropology, art history, museum studies, childrens literature, creative writing, publishing and journalism, radio journalism, fashion business, a real range; we had one student go back to Sweden to do fine art; another studied jewellery design; courses linked to auction houses are popular. About one third of students from our course go into masters courses.

Graduates

On the degree show night it was interesting to hear students saying it takes about a year to find their feet after they leave university and find what they call ‘real jobs’. They need this time to really know what career paths they want to go into, a lot of them go into paid internships with media companies, in galleries, curating, advertising and things like that until they find full-time jobs.

One graduate now works for Loaded magazine, others in advertising and events management. Some go abroad to work in auction houses, with companies like Sotheby’s and Christie’s. We have one student who works for a textile designer in Hong Kong while another is in Singapore working in a contemporary art gallery.

Generation Why?

The symposium we are holding is called ‘Generation Why?’ because current students are often referred to as ‘generation why’, or the ‘entitled’ generation. One student proposed creating a magazine called Entitled, as their age group seem to always be saying: “we are entitled to” and the symposium tonight is all about that. We have a series of guest speakers coming in for it and we will have some discussions and a meal. Staff students and outsiders are invited; it’s our first formal symposium, rather than just a debate. One of the speakers tonight is the SU president Shelly Asquith who is also a BA CCC graduate.

What do you think are the most important attributes your course offers graduating students?

We call this course a humanities course, but it is based in an arts college, so the students that come onto it have made a decision not to go to a more conventional college. Our students want to be in a building where they are surrounded by creativity.

Thinking outside the box: flexibility and imagination

Although the course has quite a large portion devoted to history and art history, by the final year they are really encouraged to think outside the box, for example: what do you do with culture and history? There’s a twist that takes them away from the books and beyond the galleries and museums into new things – be flexible and imaginative. It’s not just packaging something, but thinking about how to present culture to a variety of audiences. We want them to think about less elite communities in an approachable yet interesting way.

Social and community engagement

We have a few projects that encourage students to work with the local community, one was working with a retirement home to design an app about their personal history; they’re very socially engaged. Every year we do a project down in Brixton called 198 that is all about social engagement, it’s great to work with local bodies and we’ve worked with 198 for five years now.

Flexibility, new audiences and new ways of thinking are all key attributes that our graduates have and I think this art college is the perfect place for that.

How does the degree show reflect the work your students have produced, and how does it improve their employability?

For us the degree show is an extra; it isn’t assessed and the students’ work is primarily based on a dissertation and the ‘London Project’. However we are really pleased to be able to have a space to show off their additional work which includes a catalogue/publication and launch related events. It is of course also an exhibition – the students who are interested in careers as curators have a chance to put on a REAL show. It is a summation of what they’ve been doing but it is also apart from that

The London Project
They all have to do a large project in the final year called the ‘London Project’ and it has to have an outcome, whether it be a physical or a social outcome, that is written up and also presented orally to our examiners. It can be a book, a proposal for a conference or festival or an app. And we must be able to see it in action.

For this project we have to see things like health and safety and risk assessments that they’ve done - crucial in day-to-day work. We also assess their presentations. They are encouraged across all 3 years of the course to present their ideas in public, to fellow students, to staff and to outside guests. This is a key element of our course – along with strong writing skills and deep research.
 

*Caroline Dakers was Course Leader from 2004 to 2014
 

Transcript by student journalist Rebekah Thompson

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