Art Preview: Art School Awards @ Debut Contemporary

The art school awards, under the banner of Debut Artists of Tomorrow, is a chance for art students to win mentoring on their career development through the Debut scheme. The overall winner also receives a commission to produce a work of art.

This is the inaugural Art School Awards and the winners were announced to a packed house and are now on display at the gallery. The works include a variety of art styles including architecture, engraving and the newly resurgent taxidermy.

The overall winner was Elliot Walker, who has photographed five individuals on anti-depressants and then allowed his subjects to paint over their portraits using white paint mixed with the medication they are on. It’s a powerful approach that brings the invisible to the fore and a chance for the subjects to convey the impact that the drugs have had on them.

Before the winners were announced we spoke with Samir Ceric, the founder and managing director of Debut Contemporary, to tell us all about the awards and Debut’s unique approach to developing artists.

What are the Art School Awards?

It’s a competition open to fine art students from Foundation and first year BA to PhDs. Over 1,000 artists submitted their works and the winners will be on display at our gallery.

We know that art students don’t often get the chance to develop their business acumen at university so we wanted to give them the opportunity to do so by offering the winners a place on the Debut scheme. As education is becoming more expensive we also wanted to give students the opportunity to make money and network with other artists, collectors and other art professionals while they’re still studying.

What is the business model for Debut Contemporary and how does it work?

Our vision is to help artists gain the skills to help them develop professionally and turn their passion into a viable business without compromising on their artistic integrity. Artists apply and pay to sign up to our scheme for anywhere  between three months to a year. We provide them with mentoring and hold weekly workshops for them on relevant topics such as social media, intellectual property rights, artist resale rights, financial and business planning and marketing, to name a few. Influential collectors, curators and galleries also hold professional workshops giving artists an insight into the way these professionals operate and think and how best to approach them and possibly end up working with them.

We recognise these are developing artists so we only take a 20% commission compared to the industry standard of 50%. Being on our scheme is the equivalent of an apprenticeship as it gives artists a chance to develop their understanding of  how the art market operates so they gain experience in the practicalities that come with being an artist.

How long has the Debut scheme been going?

We launched the Debut scheme and the initial application and selection process in November 2010 and officially opened the gallery doors in March 2011 with 40 artists. To date we’ve had 100 artists come on to the scheme. Our hope is to set up a professional artistic community that will help each other develop and become successful in the process.

And how did you come up with this idea?

I’ve always been fascinated by art and my family had an interest in collecting and dealing in art. I’ve worked in various industries but I saw a gap in the market and co-founded two companies – Salon Contemporary, an art gallery that sold works by recent art graduates, and Wolf & Badger which provided a mentoring scheme for up and coming fashion and product designers. Debut Contemporary is simply a natural progression of combining the two.

The winners of the Art School Awards are on display in the downstairs gallery of Debut Contemporary, 82  Westbourne Grove, W2 5RT until 9 July. Entrance is free.

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