Jo Morrison, Digital Projects Director at Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design, explains how her institution and the other colleges that make up the University of the Arts London are embracing the creative and cultural opportunities offered by next year’s Olympic Games in London.
Students, staff and alumni of the University of the Arts London (UAL) have been making creative and cultural links to London 2012 for many months. The UAL, which educates 20,000 students in the heart of London, comprises of six colleges: Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design; London College of Fashion; London College of Communication; Chelsea College of Art & Design; Camberwell College of Art & Design; and Wimbledon College of Art and Design.
Our most iconic London 2012 contribution to date would probably be the fabulous golden gown worn by Leona Lewis at the Handover Ceremony in Beijing 2008. It was designed by LCF students – who were flown to China for the occasion – and was seen by over one billion people worldwide! Some of our illustrious alumni are also playing a significant creative role in the London Olympics, such as Stella McCartney, who is designing Team GB’s athletics kit, Anish Kapoor’s work for the enormous ArcelorMittal Orbit at the Olympic Park, and David Hillman’s designs for the Royal Mail’s commemorative stamps.
More recently, CSM postgraduate students were invited to extend the visual brand of ParalympicsGB. The organisation wanted to create an Olympic Village atmosphere for the annual Paralympic Potentials training camp held at the University of Bath each August. As part of their research, our students visited an athletics meet in Manchester to interview several hopeful future British Paralympians. Using the lion head of the ParalympicsGB logo as their starting point, the students designed graphic concepts to dress the entire sports centre at Bath, including the athletics track fencing. This work was hugely successful. The athletes said that the amount of effort put into personalising the venue made them feel special and like a team, and that it gave them a real sense of what to expect during London 2012.
Individuals within the University also have personal connections to the Olympics. Val Palmer, a senior lecturer, has told the story of her father witnessing Jesse Owens’ gold medal achievements at the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games while sitting a few rows behind Adolf Hitler. Mr Palmer was part of the British water-polo team and was told that he could not participate in the opening ceremony because of his slight disability. He defied them and walked with his team. Ally Gill-Villegas, a recent ceramics graduate, also has Olympic DNA as her grandfather was the head of the 1968 Mexican Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (MOCOG). For her final degree project Ally was inspired by the fusion of old and new London, and the cultural diversity of the city. Her 42-piece hand-painted ceramic tile panel is intended to communicate the spirit of London, and the Olympics.
Another design-sports connection is with Speedo. The company has been working with London College of Fashion students on a range of innovative products that re-use and re-manufacture the technologically advanced LZR Racer performance swimwear. Due to swimming competition rule changes, there were many obsolete swimsuits at Speedo, and the new re-designed collection was recently shown in Dubai. Some of our students have had internships at LOCOG, and through UK Sport, 35 postgraduate students are currently collaborating with 60 university students in West Africa to design frameworks for the local production of sustainable sports equipment.
So, we have really been embracing the creative and cultural opportunities that 2012 offers our community – and are continuing to do so. Initially there was a general perception that the enormous Olympics sports mega-spectacle wouldn’t necessarily provide real benefits to higher education institutions specialising in arts, design and performance. However the UAL’s experience thus far has shown that there are some amazing opportunities out there – but an institution has to be extremely proactive in finding and making the connections.
Photos courtesy University of the Arts London.