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The Student Social

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Who: Whitworth Art Gallery’s Student Engagement Coordinator, Naomi Kashiwagi & University of Salford undergraduate and postgraduate students.

What: The Student Social is a student-curated programme of exhibition premieres, which acts as a platform for student talent, creativity and participation.

Why: To provide an empowering platform for student talent, creativity, vision and participation.

Where: The Whitworth Art Gallery, University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester. M15 6ER

When: Student Social for ‘Walls are Talking’ took place 12 February 2010, 6-8:30pm. The Student Social coincides with the opening of major exhibitions at Whitworth.

Student Social

Project description

The Whitworth’s student engagement programme is pioneering a model where the students are active learners, and co-producers, The Student Social is a branch of this informal, student-led programme. Students were invited to be volunteer student curators for Student Social. It was an opportunity for students to participate and produce something new and ambitious, encouraging both the students and gallery staff to be co-learners. This model, unlike the didatic approach to knowledge transfer or transmission, values mutual cooperation and divergent thinking and aspires to be playful in execution, serious in intent.

Over 350 students celebrated the opening of the Walls are Talking exhibition at the first Student Social on 12 February 2010. Six art & design, digital media and museum management undergraduate and postgraduate students from the University of Salford for ‘Walls are Talking’ curated the Student Social.

Dance-inducing music inspired by the bustling and vibrant city, stand-up comedians as talking walls Indian folk dancing and music, table-tennis, wallpaper design workshops and badge-making stations filled the gallery spaces in the Whitworth for a night of eclectic cultural and social activity.


  • To provide a platform for students from different disciplines and universities to network, socialise, engage with the exhibitions and participate in the cultural life of the city/Whitworth.
  • Our ethos is to empower students so they can develop the self-confidence to lead on ambitious projects, voice their opinions and interpret our exhibitions and collections. 

Results and outcomes

What Worked Well

Badge Making workshop at Student Social

The opportunity enabled the students to gain professional insight and experience into working with and in galleries and museums. The student curators were also given a tour of ‘Walls are Talking’ by the Wallpaper Curator, Christine Woods and Angela Conley, Marketing Officer talked to the students about the Whitworth’s identity, tone of voice and visual branding to help them market and promote the event to students, but with a Whitworth feel. Additionally, Esme Ward, Head of Learning talked to the students about trying new things out and taking risks and focusing less on the outcome, and more on the learning through process and collaboration.

These insights had a number of unexpected outcomes. For example, BA Design for Digital Media Programme Leader, Mark Scargill was initially skeptical about one of his students, Saranjit Bansal’s being involved with the Student Social, because he couldn’t see its relevance to her studies. However that profoundly changed over the months she was working on the event. His insight into Saranjit’s active involvement with the Whitworth and how this experience has impacted upon her future vocational aspirations and choices has meant that he aims to integrate a key module into the programme to cover the design for digital media in galleries and museums. The course currently has ‘live briefs’ with design studios and magazines, but they will now offer ‘live briefs’ with galleries and museums. He is also doing MA Arts and Museum Management, part-time at University of Salford.

"The Student Social has given me an insight to what is expected of gallery when organising events. I feel I exceeded my own expectations in terms of communication skills, networking and marketing. The success of this event has given me confidence and enthusiasm to participate in similar future projects." Rhian Sutcliffe, MA Fine Art, University of Salford

"I am really excited by the idea that a student led collaborative project at a gallery,like Student Social can animate collections, potentially impact upon students' vocational aspirations and influence the structure and opportunities within HE courses." Naomi Kashiwagi, Student Engagement Coordinator, Whitworth

Wallpaper workshop at Student SocialThroughout the process of curating the student social, the organiser had independent meetings with respective tutors, to ensure that the process was mutually beneficial for everyone involved and that support structures were in place. 

The Student Social’s succedded in its ethos is to bring students together who are from different universities in Manchester and the North West, doing different or similar courses to talk, socialise, interact and participate and develop friendships in a social environment. The exhibitions, workshops, entertainment and the concept of Student Social were catalysts for conversation amongst students who didn’t know each other and other discussions and musings developed that point.

"The Student Social has encouraged cross-institutional engagement and interaction. It is initiatives such as the Student Social that ensure collaboration and good quality networking can impact positively on the student experience and help prepare the next generation of creatives for their professional and vocational destination.  Most importantly, such a lot of the initiative has been passed to the students involved and they have been able to claim significant ownership of both the process and outcome." Paul Haywood, Associate Head (Enterprise) School of Art and Design, University of Salford

What didn't work well

We offered free alcoholic drinks, but without a voucher system and because we under-anticipated the number of students attending (we were hoping for 100 students, but 354 attended), the system that we had in place, soon became out of control. Drinks vouchers will be given to students upon arriving at future Student Socials in response to this.

Students gained contacts with potential sponsors including Jack Daniels and Bench, but the companies needs more notice to sponsor the event. One of the students who has a background in gaining sponsorship for companies is working with Whitworth to source sponsorship and funding for the next Student Social.

Resources Required

The Student Social involved 6 students curators (University of Salford), Student Engagement Coordinator (Whitworth), 1 Member of House Services (Whitworth), 6 Visitor Services Assistants (Whitworth), Curator of Wallpaper (Whitworth), Marketing Officer (Whitworth), Head of Learning (Whitworth), BA Design for Digital Media Programme Leader (University of Salford), BA Critical Theory Programme Leader (University of Salford), Associate Head of Enterprise and Engagement (University of Salford).

The Whitworth Art Gallery (as a venue, together with exhibitions and collections as a resource)

£250 budget (used for entertainment, workshop materials, drinks, snacks and marketing)

Top Tips

  1. Informal opportunities give students the freedom to try out new ideas and explore their potential within a new professional context. This is very different from work placements and internships. Opportunities like Student Social fall into a different strand that galleries and museums can offer that embrace process, participation, creative autonomy and scaffolded risk.
  2. Plan the event at least 2 months in advance of the event, so as many opportunities (including sponsorship, entertainment acts can confirm in advance, marketing, promotion and press) as possible have the chance to be realised.
  3. Empower students by giving them a tour of the gallery, including behind the scenes, tour of exhibition they will be responding to, having relevant members of staff talk about what they do, ie marketing, giving them resources, links, contacts, etc. Through this empowerment they will develop the self-confidence to lead and curate as a group the event and this potentially not only impacts upon the event as an outcome, but upon their course, career path, social skills and personal networks.
  4. Work with the students to produce the event, but also arrange independent meetings with corresponding tutors to discuss the event, the process and how to facilitate to ensure the students are fully supported and empowered. This is also an opportunity to discuss other collaborative projects or ways of working that can be mutually beneficial.


Name: Naomi Kashiwagi

Name of organisation: Whitworth Art Gallery, University of Manchester


Photos taken by Saranjit Bansal (Student Social Curator)