Royal College of Art: Department 21

Department 21, Royal College of Art.

Among the year end shows that I visited in a rather happenstance manner this summer, the one I found most stimulating was that of the Royal College of Art in London. Off to the side of the exhibition space was what looked like an outdoor seminar room which was, in fact, a self-built outside deck and the “exhibition space” of Department 21, where a series of free lectures and workshops took place concomitantly with the show. An entirely student-run initiative, Department 21 was started to promote new models of art and design education and interdisciplinarity. Its name plays on the fact that are 20 existing departments at the Royal College.

Throughout the year, the founders took over a temporarily vacant space at the college where students were assigned studio space regardless of their departmental affiliations and where a series of lectures, seminars, critiques and presentations were developed. They also published a small book to recount the project.

In their own words: “Department 21 appropriated institutional territory to explore alternative models of education and to create a new kind of conceptual and social space. […] Department 21 adopted a radical strategy towards a broader definition of education, of practice and of disciplinarity. As an autonomous space, it encouraged a greater critical awareness of the students’ role within the institution.” (Polly Hunter, Bianca Elzenbaumer and Fabio Franz edited, Department 21, London, June 2010)


PS Also, on the topic of design education, you might be interested in reading my short interview on Ecouterre on teaching sustainable fashion.