A student volunteer’s perspective on “The Observatory” – An art exhibition giving a new view of research at the University 

Having finished the final submission of my degree at the beginning of May I was eager to distract myself from any impending results. Luckily, The Observatory: perspectives on landscape, society and spirit were looking for support in the run up to and during the week of the art exhibition and I readily volunteered with aid from Access 2 Internships’ Widening Participation fund.


A call-out to artists from the Arts and Culture team had been sent out earlier this year, inviting artists to submit works based on the University’s key research themes. From a large number of submitted works a selection was made by a panel of judges representing artists (Volkhardt Mueller), the City of Exeter (Val Wilson, Arts and Events Manager, Exeter City Council), the student community (Tristan Gatward – Vice President, Activities, University of Exeter Guild of Students) and the academic community (Professor Melissa Percival, Associate Professor – French, Art History and Visual Culture). The eventual selection showcased work from 40 South West artists which, after three rounds of careful and lengthy judging, I believe successfully reflected the diversity of research at the University.

“The Observatory” in the Forum, 11 – 18 June 2017.

“The Observatory”

“The Observatory”. Copyright: Elizabeth Dunne, Sara Henson Pelling, Georgina Towler (left to right).


















I invigilated The Observatory whilst it was on show in the Forum on the University of Exeter’s Streatham Campus from the 11 – 18 June 2017 and noted that despite the lack of term time student numbers there was consistently someone interested in the exhibition. The other invigilators and I were tasked with encouraging these visitors to vote for their favourite piece. This was one of two awards, the other winning artwork having been chosen by the panel of judges.



  • Julia Hutton won the Judges’ award for BURNING LIGHT, The Passing Day (Morning), a burnt line drawing which emerged through a combined process of direct observation and research with the Met Office. The drawing captures the passage of sunlight over a given time through a process of direct drawing.  The work linked to the research theme of Climate Change and Sustainable Futures.

Julia Hutton’s “BURNING LIGHT, The Passing Day (Morning).” Copyright: the artist.

  • The Visitors’ Favourite award was won by Amy McCarthy for her stained glass piece A World Without, depicting members of the artist’s family and others on their journey on the SS St Louis in May 1939 fleeing Nazi Germany. The artwork invites the viewer to contemplate our shared history and to consider the simple fact that somewhere in every British family tree there is an immigrant or refugee.  The work linked to the research theme of Identities and Beliefs.

Amy McCarthy’s “A World Without.” Copyright: the artist.

As an Art History and Visual Culture student it was thrilling to work for a project that aimed to exemplify how art, research, artists and academics have continued to inform and inspire each other. During the exhibition week a series of associated public events were held, promoting the collaboration of art and research at the University and also its special collections and campus environment.



In particular, I was able to help run Creative Conversations which provided a space for artists and researchers to network in hopes of sparking new collaborations and ideas. Also, Think…Art, a family day of creativity and learning, which hosted arts activities and displays that linked to the University’s research themes allowed families to engage in artistic workshops based on a research theme. This was a very busy day as there were many people in the forum; the artists and researchers, the participating parents and children, plus the other volunteers helping keep the day running smoothly. Altogether, The Observatory exhibition week was a whirlwind of events, art and people. I am proud to say I helped make it all happen and was really pleased to hear such positive feedback and desire for more events like it in the future.

Double Elephant print workshop for Think…Art.

Art workshops in the Forum.

Painting butterfly greeting cards.











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