Exclusive interview: Jayne Knowles, Wimbledon College of Arts

Future Merton speaks to associate dean at Wimbledon College of Arts, Jayne Knowles, about how its reputation as one of the most popular and successful facilities of its kind in the country is helping transform the London Borough of Merton into a place with high levels of cultural engagement

Associate dean at Wimbledon College of Arts, Jayne Knowles

What reasons do people give for choosing Wimbledon College of Arts?

Students choose to study with us for all kinds of different reasons – from our facilities and reputation to the college environment. We are a relatively small college that is part of a bigger university [the University of the Arts London (UAL)], so we offer the benefits of being part of both a smaller and larger institution.

Wimbledon has around 800 students on our fine art and theatre and screen courses. Students learn in our workshops, studios and on-site professional theatre from expert tutors and technicians who either work in the industry or have their own practices. 

What are the courses or opportunities available at the college that make it stand out from similar educational institutions? 

Through our shared course projects, lectures and exhibitions, our students are encouraged to work collaboratively and exposed to a wide range of disciplines and ideas. 

We have excellent relationships with organisations and institutions all over the world – our students are able to take part in exchange trips, and benefit from visiting practitioners, experts and international academics. It is essential to the life of the college.

We also have close relationships with industry; each year our graduation students receive awards, which aim to give their careers a boost.

What is the relationship like between students and teachers?

The relationship between students and teachers is a pivotal one and something which we at Wimbledon work hard to ensure is successful. Most of our teaching and technical staff are themselves practitioners and I think this gives them a real insight into the student experience and ambition. 

How do courses prepare students for careers?

We encourage practical experimentation as a way to learn the skills needed for a successful career in the arts. Our courses also teach the contextual information needed for students to understand the history and background of their practice, which helps them to develop and move it forward. 

Whether it is working in prop production for a feature film or West End show (alumnus Will Piece who graduated in 2003 works on the stage production of the Lion King), winning prestigious art awards such as the Turner Prize (alumna Josephine Pryde is one of the nominee’s for this year’s award) or the Jerwood Drawing Prize, or continuing to study at postgraduate and research level, we have an international reputation for producing artists and designers, who are known for their creativity, technical ability and professionalism.

How has the college changed over the years? What improvements have been brought about since you have been associate dean?

We are extremely proud of the new studio building which was built as an addition to the college’s campus and opened last year (2015), currently used by students on our BA Theatre & Screen: Set Design for Screen and BA Fine Art: Print and Time-Based Media courses. This building is highly sustainable and environmentally friendly: it constantly adjusts to the external environment and solar panels provide 100% of the energy required to light the space - it also contributes to the heating and so far has produced less than zero carbon emissions.

For Wimbledon, having such a sustainable building on site is an important reflection of the work being done at Wimbledon to integrate issues of sustainability into the curriculumn. 

It won the Ashen Prize at the New London Architecture awards, which champions sustainable projects that demonstrate high levels of energy efficiency.

Can you talk about the relationship with Love Wimbledon (the Business Improvement District)? What improvements has this brought to the area?

One of our BA Print & Time-Based Media graduates, Henry Day, has recently designed a geometric sculpture entitled ‘Rebound Symmetry’ for Love Wimbledon. The tennis-based installation is currently hanging above The Piazza to celebrate the town centre’s relationship with the Wimbledon tennis tournament and is part of the Love Wimbledon Autumn Arts Festival.

What are the advantages of the college’s geographical location and surroundings?

Wimbledon has a fantastic creative community and also has excellent connections to central London and beyond. Our location near some of the UK’s major film and television companies as well as theatres and galleries is one we encourage students to make the most of during them time with us.

We have excellent relationships with local initiatives such as Merton Abbey Mills, with whom we offer an annual award to a graduating student which provides them with a rent-free studio space for a year after they leave the college, as well as mentoring and support to develop their own business or career. It’s an exceptional opportunity for graduates, which also benefits the local area, as it retains their creativity and entrepreneurship and feeds it into the community beyond the college. 

But being in south-west London, further form the city centre, also gives our students the chance to get out and work in green space and the outdoors.

 

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