Mixing art with dignitaries

Friday 7 June was the opening of the annual undergraduate degree show at the Wolverhampton School of Art. This is now the fifth year in a row I have attended the opening, the 50th degree show at the George Wallis Building. The first time was as a prospective student, nervous and in awe; then twice as a Level 6 undergraduate, firstly with my bronze balloons, and secondly, with my repetition room; then last  year showing my black-and-white fuzzy things; and finally this year, with nothing to show but an important job to fulfil.

This year, I didn’t really get the chance to look properly at the graduating students artwork as I was too busy keeping my eye elsewhere. This is because I had been tasked with the job of escort to five important people: the Madam Mayor of Wolverhampton, Mr Consort of Wolverhampton, the Deputy Mayor of Telford and Wrekin, a councillor from Telford and Wrekin and the body guard of the regalia of the mayorship. 

What the bodyguard was protecting.

I admit that I been been very nervous about the prospect of such a responsibility. In fact, it had been on my mind all week, but the nerves really kicked in on Friday morning. However, I had accepted the offer to act as escort the weekend before the final show because it was so unexpected and an honour, and I knew it would be quite a challenge for me. I’m not naturally a people-person (if such a term exists). I’m quite introvert. I’m an observer not a talker. I can get very overwhelmed when it comes to social events. More importantly, I get lost very easily, even in a building I know well. I’m not sure why I was picked for the role. But I’ve been a school governor and vice-chair, so I’ve had to put myself in situations where I’ve had to put on the social persona to people who hold important positions, I also had to do this sort of job a lot during my time in Japan. So this was not that new to me. That didn’t make it any less scary.

When the time came and once I launched myself into my position, the reality wasn’t as daunting as my imagination had had it out to be. I had some help from someone very close to me, my partner in all respects, who came to give me moral support. I couldn’t have done it without him. He saved me a lot of angst and nerves and he helped make it a very memorable evening for all concerned. He is not connected to the School of Art but has a creative spirit and also has lots of experience of such social situations. In addition, he provided an interesting extra dynamic to the conversations we had. On a practical level, it took two of us to keep the party together (and, believe me, even with two this wasn’t easy). On an emotional level, he grounded me and allowed me to relax and go with the flow of conversation, directed by our distinguished guests. Two hours after we started, which felt like ten minutes, we parted from the dignitaries, and I felt genuinely sad that the evening was over. I will remember that night for a long time, not least for the taciturn bodyguard, who showed no emotion whatsoever, hardly spoke, but kept a corner of one eyebrow raised inquisitively at the artworks he encountered.

‘What is fine art?’ This was one of the questions I was asked by my guests. My reply: ‘How long have you got?’ 

The evening was a success I felt, and I was very moved by the emotion of the degree show, another year gone, another year of students moving on to a bright future. Madam Mayor and Mr Consort are a lovely couple and seemed to thoroughly enjoy their tour. They bumped into so many people they knew along the way and it was touching to see how well-received they were by everyone and how smoothly they interacted with the students, asking them about their work and future plans. The two Telford dignitaries, also, were genuine and down to earth, and really good company. They asked me many questions about art, such as ‘What is fine art?’ and ‘What is the difference between product design and fine art?’ They were fascinated by some of the work on display (they also were quite taken with the free nibbles). But then again, who isn’t? Free beer, free nibbles. Roll on next year. If I am asked to do it again, I won’t hesitate to say yes.

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