This year, for the first time, the Design School at London College of Communication offered students the opportunity to become British Council Venice Fellows and to work at the British Pavilion during the Venice Biennale, one of the world’s most prestigious cultural events.

The Venice Fellowships were set up by the British Council to strengthen the British Pavilion as a platform for ideas, research, education and collaboration. Fellows divide their time between invigilating the British Pavilion and pursuing individual research shaped by the focus of the biennale. This year the theme of the 16th International Architecture Exhibition is ‘Freespace’, an exploration of unfinished, reused or co-opted spaces which have been re-imagined in creative, informal and improvised ways.

Venice Fellows are supported by a grant, co-funded by the British Council and London College of Communication, which covers travel, accommodation and subsistence costs for a month. Fellows are selected through a competitive application process via LCC and then interviewed by the British Council. Successful candidates were Laura Fogar from MA Graphic Branding and Identity, Cate Rickards from MA Graphic Media Design and Claire Alexis from MA Interaction Design Communication.

Dr Nicky Ryan, Dean of Design visited Laura Fogar in Venice to find out what it was like to be a Fellow and to see if she had any advice for future applicants…

The sun was shining across a sparkling lagoon when I met Laura outside of the British Pavilion in the Venice Giardini. She began by taking me on a tour of the pavilion, explaining the theme of ‘Island’ and the influences which had inspired its creation by Caruso St John Architects and artist Marcus Taylor. This year the British Pavilion has caused some controversy by leaving the original galleries empty, bar the traces of previous exhibitions, while constructing a new temporary space on the roof, open to the skies, surrounded by trees and offering magnificent views.

After my tour, we ascended the scaffolding stairs to the elevated piazza and found a space in the shade to talk about Laura’s experiences of being a Venice Fellow and what she had learned so far. Laura told me that her responsibilities in terms of invigilation included looking after visitors and engaging them with the exhibition; housekeeping, health and safety and working as part of a team to ensure that everything runs smoothly. She invigilates for four days and has three days to undertake her personal research.

Laura’s research for her Masters Final Project was particularly relevant to the theme of Freespace as it was about preserving empty spaces and highlighting their importance to the urban landscape. During her time as a Venice Fellow she is using her personal experience of the exhibition to think about ways that institutions can communicate complex concepts to global audiences. Peer feedback and crits are supporting her in the development of this work which she will exhibit in the British Council exhibition and a group show with other Fellows.

The main benefits of the Fellowship from Laura’s perspective have been working with and learning from colleagues from a diversity of disciplines, building a network of contacts, experiencing team work, understanding how large exhibitions and their related communications function, working with international audiences and having the opportunity to live in Venice, a UNESCO World Heritage site. She says that being part of the Biennale has been inspiring and provided a space for critical reflection and personal development.

Before I said goodbye to Laura, her closing advice to future applicants was “This is a great opportunity. Do not consider a Venice Fellowship to be a distraction from progressing your career aspirations and getting a job. Being a Venice Fellow is a real job and so much more! This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to work in an amazing setting with enthusiastic colleagues and to be part of a friendly, dynamic and creative community.”

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