Staff and Students from AHEH project partners were delighted to visit Finland to take part in a pilot training study trip.  The trip included visits to the Design Factory and Urban Mill at Aalto University as well as the Ship Festival at Kotka. 

The Ship Festival is an international festival of entrepreneurship including mentoring support and live pitches to a jury of investors.

The study trip provided many teaching and learning opportunities for staff and students.

The following are reflections of some students who took part in the pilot training.

Andrew Bowen of Swansea College of Art

2nd year undergraduate student, Andrew Bowen of Swansea College of Art, University of Wales Trinity Saint David reflects upon the experience below:

My name is Andrew Bowen, I am a visual artist studying Fine Art: Studio, Site and Context at Swansea Collage of Art, University of Wales Trinity Saint David. Working predominately in sculpture and paint, my work often has a ‘Pop’ aesthetic. 

This summer I feel extremely privileged to have be selected for participation in Arts & Humanities Entrepreneurship Hub Swansea’s visit to one of their European counterparts in Helsinki, Finland.

AHEH is a group of universities and businesses based in a variety of European countries, from Portugal, Ireland, Wales, Spain, Finland, Croatia and Italy. The alliance goal is to improve the long term employability and entrepreneurial prospects of arts and humanities graduates.

I am soon to be a graduate of Fine Art and see this project as the perfect opportunity to improve my job prospects come graduation, while at the same time gaining insight and knowledge regarding the business side of my practice; skills my impressive Fine Art: studio, site and context course have thus far not covered. Over the course of my studies I have seen masses of talented art graduates fail to secure jobs in their chosen discipline, instead these good folks are struggling to make ends meet, working in roles such as retail shop assistants and call-centre customer service representatives. I believe that these graduates (many of whom have achieved a 2:1 or above) would be assets to forward thinking businesses and companies. Due to the nature of the subject studied each student has an innate ability to come up with creative, outside of the box solutions to issues and problems that the aforementioned organisations face on a daily basis.

My role for the study trip was to provide feedback on the training, specifically documenting my personal response to the ‘Ship Festival’. Along with this documentation I am tasked to provide a running commentary via an online social media platform while also creating a blog.

To kick things off I must first explain what I hope to gain from this trip. Personally, employment upon graduation is possibly the most important aspect of my studies at UWTSD. As I mature student I have worked numerous jobs throughout the last fifteen years, none of which I would call a ‘career’. My hope is to further my studies in a specialised field the once graduated, enter a place of work that would allow me personal growth and a steady income to healthily support a family. Thus far the course I selected (Fine Art: studio, site and context) has not really given me confidence that this will be the case. As I mentioned before, the employment rate of graduates from Art courses is near non-existent. Only a select few work in their fields of study and even then, are working for next to nothing. With this trip I hope to gain some form of insight into the possible avenues available to me post-graduation, along with gaining knowledge on what it would take for me to start my own business, a business that I could use to offer employment to these undervalued art graduates.

The Ship Festival was taking place in the wonder filled museum of Kotka. We had a chance to briefly explore the innards of the building and then were given our personal lanyards (Andrew Bowen – UWTD, fingers crossed this is some universal foreshadowing in regards to my future employment) and met out tour guides for the rest of the day. Enter Henna and Jouni, two Finish counterparts to Jess and myself, studying at Aalto University.

Henna and Jouni took Jess, Steve and myself around Kotka on an exploration mission. We were also joined by Santiago who is studying in the University of Porto in Portugal (another of the many institutes involved in the AHEH project). Kotka, it turns out, is famous for its sculpture walk. Throughout the small, sea surrounded archipelago of a city sculptures are scattered, why is this not a thing in all cities?

Upon arrival at the brilliantly designed museum, we began to watch pitch after pitch of tech start-ups before requiring the first break of the day.  During this morning break we explored the museum, it had exhibits showcasing the history of local Finish culture and, being a museum of sea-fairing vessels, boats and the many apparatus that accompany them. After rummaging around the exhibits we headed back to the main hall for more pitches before breaking for lunch.

Rule 1 – Know your s*** (yeah, I can say that!). The second is confidence, show no fear, investors smell fear. If you’re confident in what you’re trying to sell and confident in your delivery, then that confidence with rub off on investors and they will be confident in investing their money in you. Rule 2 – Be confident. The third is brand design and graphics. A professional and stylistic presentation, along with perfected logo and brand design, makes a massive difference. Rule 3 – Style. The fourth aspect of producing the perfect pitch is pacing. There is a small window of time for you to sell your million euro/pound idea to investors and many grounds will need to be covered, who? What? Why? When? How? Run over your allotted time and they will just cut you short before you can get to the finale. Rule 4 – Time.

This knowledge and experience will play a helpful part in my ‘Big Crit’ next year (a presentation on my artistic journey this far). And by following the four rules I have developed it shouldn’t be a problem. In regards to AHEH and what the collective could take from this, I believe that supplying students with tutoring and mentoring in regards to pitching ideas, along with workshops on branding and marketing basics could improve student employability and aspirations. Although I wouldn’t focus a tremendous amount of energy and resources on the pitching aspect as I believe it is more important to teach arts student basic business, branding and marketing skills and instead focus on pitching as a finishing touch

What I expected to and what I actually gained from this trip are two separate things entirely. Going into this I had imagined gaining knowledge on how I could build my own business, or knowledge on gaining employment within companies that do not traditionally employ arts graduates. Honestly, I feel I learned none of the above. But that is 100% okay! I studied pitch after pitch of some wonderful ideas, none had fine art context but I drew inspiration from the best of them and thus learned how to pitch my own ideas to an audience. Learning skills that will certainly help my artistic practice in terms of presentation and group discord. But it was the information and knowledge gained from the discussions and dialogue with fellow European students, specifically Santiago and Steve, lecturers (thank you Amanda and Shelley!) and business partners that I took most from this trip. These discussions have moulded my thinking to stretch beyond the small bubble of the Swansea art scene, and forced me to think of myself as a true global citizen.

The conversations with Amanda have allowed me to realise the true scope of jobs available to art graduates, including working in television and teaching roles. This has reassured me that I made the right choice coming back to education after such a long period of time working jobs that made me unhappy, allowing me to feel enthusiastic and positive when it comes to opportunities upon graduation. Couple this with the discussions with Steve and my eyes have been opened to the potential of studying at a Phd level. Spending the days with Phd level graduates and holding my own in conversation further solidifies the idea that maybe one day the letters sent to my home could be titled Andrew Bowen Phd…

In regards to feedback from the perspective of furthering the growth of the AHEH project, I believe that pitching should certainly be an aspect of what the collective offers its students. Pitching skills are easily transferable to other aspects of artistic practice, they can be used to discuss works, ideas and present projects to a larger audience, as well as aid in the development of skills potential teachers and tutors can use while lecturing large groups of students. In regards to the pitching of business ideas, students will need a much broader understanding of basic business, marketing and the such. If I was tasked to write a business proposal I wouldn’t know where to begin, but it’s a skill I would love to be integrated in to my course in some facet. Another important aspect would be self-branding and promotion, skills essentially unnecessary for courses such as Marketing and Brand Design but instrumental to the success of practicing filmmakers, illustrators and fine artists.

Finally, I would like to give a massive thank you to the AHEH project, its Finish partners for hosting a wonderful event and stay in such a beautiful country. My fellow students for making the trip all the more enjoyable; and to Shelley and Amanda for having enough confidence in me to select me for what has been a once in a life time opportunity. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart.

Andrew.

Jessica Parry of Swansea College of Art

Second-year undergraduate student, Jessica Parry of Swansea College of Art, University of Wales Trinity Saint David reflects upon the experience below:

My research into the Ship Start Up Festival had provided me with a rough outline as to what to expect when attending the festival in Finland. In addition, a lot of information I needed to know regarding the trip was provided to me before-hand which was useful for developing my expectations of the trip and what I expected to learn and gain from such an incredible experience. However, there were some unexpected findings from my observations of the festival that will be discussed further within this document.

I come from a Fine Art background and I personally thought that this festival would be more relevant to those with a Design background within the visual arts. Parts of it were irrelevant to me probably because the product of the pitch was not my usual interest, yet what was relevant was how I observed the sublime creativity of the visuals that were made and considered by me as being a ‘good pitch’. I approached my observations from the perspective of a learning practitioner who is creative, yet is willing to engage and understand the reality of entrepreneurship outside of my degree. The concept of ‘pitching’ an idea, as I observed at the festival, was presented in a very formal and professional demeanour which I strongly believe has provided me with a better understanding as to how I can present my own work. This would be valuable for instance if I decided to apply for artist residencies or present my work to galleries in the future. Observing the festival has given me a coherent understanding into how I could use my degree externally (outside of university) in the future, as well as how to formally present my work with a casual yet passionate professionalism.

I feel that by physically observing, engaging and gaining that professional atmosphere of a ‘pitch’, it has strongly given me and set a high standard for presenting my own work to both galleries or residencies as I’ve mentioned above.

Establishing and developing connections within the world of art and design, are crucial and valuable for establishing one’s self within the arts culture. An artist doesn’t simply enter the arts culture world when they leave university. A platform for the artist needs to be engaged with and established, not ignored so the artist takes as many opportunities as possible.

This trip to the SHIP Festival personally has altered my perception of how to develop my practice and profession as a young artist, soon to be graduating from university. This trip has also given me a new perspective into how my degree can be used externally.