Attending an art school in the US would have been the convenient choice for Jillian Ballas, an American. However, the BA (Hons) Fine Art programme offered by Norwich University of the Arts (NUA) in the UK proved to be too good of an opportunity to pass up.
“I love that I can explore different mediums,” she says. “I also love that NUA is a slightly smaller school, which means I have more interaction with tutors.”
At NUA, students have the opportunity to find their artistic calling within a supportive learning environment. Instead of advising Ballas to focus on the areas she knew best, they encouraged her to step out of her comfort zone and experiment with different mediums. In the process, she discovered a passion for sculpting.
Ballas has enjoyed every minute working with Desmond Brett, a senior lecturer in fine art who specialises in sculpture. Brett sees his classroom as a space that isn’t filled with students, but with artists. “When I’m working with them, we’re all in the same territory,” he says.
It’s this approach to education that ensures a vibrant learning experience for NUA students. While perfecting their craft, they develop a substantial portfolio within a purpose-built studio space that helps students to realise their creative direction.
The word Ballas uses to describe the experience is “special”. Ballas cares about her work; in a room filled with masterpieces, Brett can always tell which belongs to Ballas. All NUA visionaries enjoy the same personalised attention — domestic or international — yet no two experiences are ever the same.
“A student like Jillian, coming from the US, will have a very different educational experience to a student from Norwich or the north of England,” he explains. “We don’t have a house rule or house style, and we don’t elevate one practice over another. It’s always about challenging them and enabling them to be the best possible artists they can be.”
At NUA, every faculty member teaches with the same values and passion. Many of them are highly experienced, talented, and renowned practitioners. Filmmaker and director Roter Su teaches the MA Moving Image and Sound and BA (Hons) Film and Moving Image Production courses. Professor Richard Sawdon Smith, Dean of Art and Media, is an award-winning photographer whose work has been exhibited across the globe.
Animation lecturer Jon Dunleavy is just as impressive, with decades of industry experience in London and several awards under his belt for his work as a director and animator. When lecturer Rob Hillier isn’t leading the MA Communication Design class, he is a designer, typography maestro, DJ, musicologist and archivist.
BA (Hons) Textile Design and BA (Hons) Fashion Course Leader Kate Farley — a practicing designer with over 20 years industry experience — is highly accomplished. Farley has designed books and prints, undertaken commissions for site-specific public artworks, including a hospital roof and airport terminal, in addition to creating bespoke patterns for organisations such as the Barbican Centre, among others.
Rubbing shoulders with some of the world’s finest artists gives students a glimpse into their future. These connections make it easier for budding artists to realise their passions. Some even use their new network as a golden ticket into the creative industry of their dreams.
“What I find very inspiring about the creative community here is just how excited and passionate people are about their given subjects,” Ballas says. “Though we might not all be interested in the same thing, we all have that excitement in common and you can really just feel that energy here.”
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