Auckland’s Elam School of Art holds annual graduate exhibition, leaving students devastated
Students at Auckland’s Elam School of Fine Arts have been left reeling after the school’s annual graduate show was canceled with little warning, due to self-imposed Covid-19 restrictions.
The school, which is part of the University of Auckland, had previously informed students in an email that the broadcast, scheduled for February 20-21, would take place under Alert Level 2.
However, it was later canceled just hours before the Prime Minister’s announcement on Wednesday of the change in alert levels.
The unexpected news left graduate students “baffled” and “really upset”, said Sue Nelson, who is completing a postgraduate fine arts degree.
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“We couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t wait a few hours for the official announcement because if we were in level 2, everything was supposed to go ahead,” she said.
“We were all left a little speechless. They changed it without any notice.
Nelson offered a range of alternatives to the university, including offering to “reduce the number” of guests, but that would not budge, she said.
The annual graduate show is traditionally an opportunity for students to showcase their projects to family, friends, and the bigwigs of the art world.
“They invite a lot of important people to the grad lounge, and that’s really a way to get your career off the ground,” Nelson said.
“It’s one of those opportunities where you go through the whole Elam process, and now they’ve just taken it away.”
Some projects for the show had been expensive and required months of hard work. Now they will have to be dismantled and removed from the building without being seen in person — only online, Nelson said.
Postgraduate student Inga Fillary said she was “beyond devastated” as she invested “thousands of hours of work and thousands of dollars” in an art installation that will no longer be shown as planned.
“I had made a huge Pacific installation of 2.5 cubic meters which I built inside the building,” she said.
“I started working on it in October and basically worked on it for the duration of the university opening in the summer.
“It can’t really be moved, it can only really be seen in the living room and now I have to take it down and put it away.”
The same goes for Jazmin Snoswell, a fourth-year bronze student, whose project “can’t really be experienced through screens” and “has to be experienced first-hand”.
It was “the most disappointing thing that has ever happened to me in my life,” she said.
“I already have huge, huge student and personal debt because of [this work],” she says.
Students said they were locked outside the university over the weekend, unable to access their work.
Elam then asked them on Monday evening to pick up their designs over the next two days.
Fillary, Snoswell and Nelson hope the show will be postponed.
Fillary, who was dismantling her project on Tuesday, said the atmosphere was “pretty discouraged” with other students there “crying a lot”.
Students struggle to find a space and put on their own self-funded graduation show.
Associate Professor Peter Shand, head of the Elam School of Fine Arts, said the safety of students, staff and the wider university community is paramount.
“We will continue to follow the advice and guidance provided by the government,” he said.
“We are disappointed that our graduates were unable to present their work.”
The university will provide assistance for students to exhibit their art, Shand said.
However, he did not specify what it would look like.
Shand also did not respond to questions about why the show was canceled, although the university said earlier it could continue under Alert Level 2.