Jo Arscott's acceptance speech via video

In a ceremony featuring almost 250 students hosted by Theatre Royal Plymouth, Plymouth College of Art awarded fellowships to those who have significantly contributed to the arts, arts education and cultural leadership

Celebrating years of hard work and creativity, the Plymouth College of Art Class of 2020 graduated on Sunday 18 July at the 2020 Graduation ceremony, hosted by Theatre Royal Plymouth (@TRPlymouth).

With graduation normally happening in October or November, the 2020 ceremony was postponed due to covid restrictions. However, in a student survey circulated in February 2021, 89% of students said they would prefer, and would be happy to wait for, a physical graduation ceremony, with virtual offering for those who can’t attend. Breaking the graduating cohort down into three groups and ceremonies, the graduation went ahead with social distancing, mask wearing, one way systems and timed gowning and photography slots in order to govern the amount of people on site at any one time. 

Every year Plymouth College of Art awards Honorary Fellowships to recognise exceptional achievement in the creative arts, as well as recognising individuals that have achieved significant social change through the arts and culture. This year, the college awarded them to Director of Tate St Ives and curator, Anne Barlow, and Britain’s first black female Creative Director and award-winning creative consultant, Jo Arscott, who acknowledged the accolade via video during the ceremony.

Anne Barlow has been the Director of Tate St Ives since 2017, where she oversees its program of exhibitions, displays, artist residences, new commissions, learning and research, having previously worked as Director of Art in General, a non-profit contemporary art exhibition space known for its vibrant and ground-breaking projects in New York, for over a decade. Jo Arscott is an award-winning creative with a passion for challenging the boundaries in global advertising, having worked for leading agencies such as Saatchi & Saatchi and J. Walter Thompson and billion-dollar brands including Coca-Cola and P&G. Both are being recognised for their significant contribution to the arts, arts education and cultural leadership.

Speaking to the Class of 2020, Anne Barlow said,

“Plymouth College of Art is a centre for excellence and innovation and its creative arts program is inspirational. It couldn't be a better place from which to start, what I'm sure is to be a very exciting journey ahead for all of you. Wherever that takes you, be mindful of where you are and be invested in that, while staying ever curious and connected. These are times of significant change but that also brings agency, where you can individually and collectively make a difference. It's important to trust your instincts, stay true to your convictions and don't be afraid to take risks. Those might be the very decisions that bring the greatest reward. Having an arts education fundamentally shaped my thinking and my approach to life overall, it is therefore an enormous privilege to receive this Honorary Fellowship from Plymouth College of Art and I would like to thank Professor Andrew Brewerton and the academic board for conferring this significant honour upon me. I congratulate all of you today on your graduation and wish you much success in the years to come.”

Plymouth College of Art also awarded Honorary Fellowships to brothers Tim and Chris Britton, who together with Penny Saunders are Forkbeard Fantasy, a studio and museum devoted to performance art, theatre and film, who are being recognised for their inspiring creative work within communities in Devon over the last 45 years.

Tim Britton of Forkbeard Fantasy, said in his speech to the graduating students,

“Never forget you're all so lucky, you're all blessed with this creative spirit and vitally, imagination; those most underused muscles in the human body, as Forkbeard's own Penny always describes it. It really can see you through the worst of times and help counter so much of the rubbish life will hurl at you. Remember how your love of creativity will also help others through bad times too, by sharing ideas, inspiring others and making people think and see things differently and often in completely new ways.”

Over 250 students graduated from Plymouth College of Art, with a range of creative degrees at undergraduate and Masters levels, from Animation, Photography and Graphic Design, to Fashion Media & Marketing, Film and Costume Production, in three ceremonies. 

Due to lockdown restrictions in 2020, Plymouth College of Art’s Class of 2020 were prevented from having their work presented in real time and space in a degree exhibition befitting the conclusion of their creative studies. From 12 to 25 July, the 2020 graduates exhibited their work in the Far From Near: One Year On exhibition at The Market Hall in Plymouth, a new state of the art £7.6million digital space situated in the heart of Devonport, home to Europe’s largest immersive dome. Although their work was professionally featured online through the initiatives and events organised by their subject leaders, and through participation in the Ignite platform shared with University of Plymouth, graduates also wanted the opportunity to physically display their work, which has culminated in the graduate event curated by Stephanie Owens, Head of School of Arts + Media at Plymouth College of Art. 

Stephanie Owens said,

“During this truly tumultuous and eventful year, our graduates have all proved why the arts and creativity are so necessary to society. I imagine that anyone would look at what they have accomplished and expect we might be rightfully celebrating their resilience, courage and persistence. But what is truly remarkable is the quality and thoughtfulness of the work that has been made in this context. It is nothing short of brilliant. I offer my most sincere congratulations to all our 2020 graduates, not just for completing their degrees, but doing so with uncommon commitment and vision. The world will be better for the contributions they have all made.” 

Stephen Felmingham, Head of School of Cultural + Critical Studies at Plymouth College of Art said,

“When our graduates started their degrees, the world had little idea of what words like pandemic and lockdown meant. The fact they have sustained their studies with such brilliant fortitude and creative aspiration during this time of all times, this seismic shift in the patterns of society, shows they have the grit and determination to succeed when seemingly the odds have been against them. This bodes well for their future success, in a world that needs them more than ever.”

Anne Barlow

Anne Barlow has been the Director of Tate St Ives since 2017, where she oversees its programme of exhibitions, displays, artist residencies, new commissions, learning and research. Prior to her current role, Anne was Director of Art in General, a non-profit contemporary art exhibition space known for its vibrant and ground-breaking projects in New York, for over a decade. Her background also includes time spent as the Curator of Education and Media Programs, at the New Museum in New York, and Curator of Contemporary Art and Design at Glasgow Museums in Scotland. 

She has published and lectured widely and was Curator of the 5th Bucharest Biennale and Co-Curator of the Latvian Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale. She has also acted on numerous selection panels and juries including the kim? Residency Award, Riga; Exposure 8, Beirut Art Center, Lebanon; MAC International 2018, Belfast; and the British Pavilion, 58th Venice Biennale.

Jo Arscott

Heralded by the Design Council as Britain’s first black female Creative Director, Jo Arscott is an award-winning creative with a passion for challenging the boundaries in global advertising. Her career began in London during the 80’s and since has taken her all over the world, from the UK to USA and MENA. Working for leading agencies such as Saatchi & Saatchi and J. Walter Thompson and on billion-dollar brands including Coca-Cola, NA, Global, P&G and Scale.

Telling consumer stories in all media, Jo has creatively led global programs such as The Olympic Games to store re-inventions. Back in the UK, Jo consults and mentors globally and has won multiple industry accolades including Campaign Magazine/Creative Equals ‘Future Leaders 2021’ and Design Magazine, ‘Remarkable Women’. She judges industry awards such as D&AD, The One Show/ ADC and Cannes Eurobest. Recently, Jo has rightfully earned a reputation in corporate speaking as a strong diversity advocate educating both agencies and blue-chip business on the power and profitability of inclusion in all its forms.

Tim and Chris Britton

Tim and Chris Britton, who together with Penny Saunders are Forkbeard Fantasy, have been delighting, amazing and astounding audiences with their extraordinary blend of performance art, film and invention for over forty five years. 

Forkbeard Fantasy began in 1974 and soon established a reputation at festivals, including Edinburgh, and alternative venues with early performance pieces such as The Great British Square Dance. Their work grew to encompass film, puppetry and animation as well as performance, and they developed their unique technique of seamlessly combining film with live performance. Penny Saunders’ design work, including not only costumes but a variety of creatures, puppets and contraptions, added a further rich element to the work. Their blend of art, experimentation and humour attracted growing audiences and theatre shows including A Serious Leak, Barbers of Surreal and The Fall of the House of Usherettes were performed in major theatre venues and the West End as well as in schools and community centres. 

From their earliest days, education work has formed a central element of Forkbeard’s work and their creative projects in schools, and their residencies, workshops and village film festivals have introduced many children and young people to the joy and importance of art. Numerous people whose first experience of art was at a Forkbeard workshop or residency have gone on to make their careers in the arts.

Tim and Chris’ first visit to Plymouth was in 1976, when they performed The Government Warning Show at Plymouth Arts Centre. The company relocated to Devon in 1983 and over the years have performed at venues throughout Devon from village halls, community centres and schools to theatres and television studios. In 1989 they worked with local television company TSW, and many Plymouthians still remember the giant inflatable blue woman who floated above the TSW studios, while Tim appeared as a giant crow dodging traffic on the Derrys Cross roundabout below. 

In the late 1990s Forkbeard established their own studios in mid Devon where they continued their programme of workshops and education projects and established the Museum of Forkbeard. Over the last forty-seven years they have created 150 live shows, films and interactive exhibitions. Tim continues to write, draw and voice his own 2-D animations under the Forkbeard Animation banner.

Honorary Fellows at Plymouth College of Art

Past recipients of Honorary Fellowships from the college include: Professor Andrew Kötting, independent film-maker and artist; Dr Amilia Ramović, Curator, Art Producer and Professor at the Academy of Music and Academy of Film at the University of Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina; Tim Bolton, former Vice Principal at Plymouth College of Art; Malcolm Ferris, Co-Founder, Curator and Editor of Making Futures; Sir Nicholas Serota, Chair of Arts Council England; Richard Deacon CBE, the leading British sculptor and Turner Prize winner; British designers and renowned advocates and campaigners for creative education and the creative industries, Sir John Sorrell CBE and Lady Frances Sorrell OBE; Mike Westbrook OBE, renowned musician; Clare Twomey, a leading British ceramics and performance artist; Suki Dhanda, photographer for The Guardian and Observer; Bernard Samuels, former Director of Plymouth Arts Centre; Creative Director of Pentland Brands, Katie Greenyer; independent cultural broker, Peter Jenkinson OBE; children’s artist David McKee; painter Albert Irvin; Joanne Anning, CEO of Jeremiah’s Journey; Louise Tilbury, Plymouth School of Creative Arts Project Manager; Tobie Gorniack, Founder of Street Factory; and French glass artist Antoine Leperlier.

Some notable 2020 graduating students

BA (Hons) 3D Design Crafts graduate Gregory Williams won the prestigious British Art Medal Society’s Student Medal Project in 2020, with a bronze casted medal developed with computer-aided design software, supported by the expert staff in the college’s Fab Lab Plymouth. Since graduating, Gregory has since been awarded a Medal Makers Award grant by the British Medal Society, granted by a donation from sculptor and medallist Ron Dutton.

Molly Erin McCarthy studied BA (Hons) Fine Art, while working alongside her studies at Plymouth College of Art’s in-house gallery MIRROR. Molly continued her collaboration within the local art community throughout her degree, having worked with Plymouth gallery KARST since 2018, been commissioned by new museum and gallery The Box and assisting with the Plymouth Art Weekender in 2020. She has also held online residencies, including work exhibited online with Digital Art Residency and Silicon Valet. Since graduating, Molly is now Co-Director of CAMP (Contemporary Art Membership Plymouth), a member-led network for the creative and visual arts community in Devon and Cornwall, and has been selected for the Plymouth Contemporary 2021, which is open until September 5.

Jesse Welland-Hammond made the most of the last year of her BA (Hons) Costume Production & Associated Crafts degree, working in wardrobe departments across the UK., from the smash hit Abba musical Mamma Mia! at the famous Novello Theatre in London’s West End and comedy play A Comedy About A Bank Robbery at the Criterion Theatre in Piccadilly Circus, to travelling to arenas on tour with Here Come The Girls, featuring stars of Strictly Come Dancing. Jesse also assisted with costumes at the local Devonport Playhouse during their run of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang! and now works assisting in the wardrobe department at household name holiday resort Butlins.

BA (Hons) Illustration graduate Charlotte Leadley, along with two of her cohort, won the Mojo Nation Student Design Challenge in the ‘Toy’ category in 2019, going on to be shortlisted for the New Designer of the Year award for Social Impact Design in 2020. She has since been named as one of the Association of Illustrators (AOI) 10 UK Graduates To Watch 2020, and was mentioned in the AOI’s World Illustration Awards 2021.

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