Birkbeck, University of London’s ‘Ruin and rebuild’

Birkbeck, University of London’s ‘Ruin and rebuild’

Birkbeck, University of London’s ‘Ruin and rebuild’

Grace Halden from Birkbeck, University of London, tells us how she engaged students and the public in her fantastic event ‘Ruin and rebuild’. She also provides great tips on creating a successful open pathway event and the importance of getting your whole university behind you to make it happen.  

Tell us a bit about your event. What subject areas did you cover and what did you want to achieve?

I identified the potential for an exhibition based on urban dereliction and designed the exhibition to focus specifically on urban ruination that has been created through abandonment. Fitting with the 2017 festival theme of ‘lost and found’, the exhibition encouraged visitors to consider the spaces around them and how sites and buildings have become ‘lost’ due to various political and economic pressures. By combining numerous disciplines including art and geography, the objective was for the exhibition to offer something for everyone – regardless of background and interests.

In order to thoroughly explore ruination, I wanted to incorporate the work of numerous artists looking at varied interpretations of urban ruins. As an educator, it was important to me to try and include students and provide them with the opportunity to creatively explore their own research on this topic. I selected seven students at BA and MA level to display their work; the pieces were varied and consisted of poetry, documentary, graphic narrative, artefact, a collection of archival finds, and photography. The result was a unique ‘pop-up’ exhibition using creative work that reflected what it means to live within urban spaces problematized by constant design, dereliction, and rejuvenation.

The exhibition was open on a Saturday between 12.00 and 17.00 enabling visitors to ‘drop in’ for either a few minutes or a couple of hours. We transformed a teaching room into a vibrant and exciting space of art. We also created a ‘Ruin and rebuild’ website to extend the exhibition after the duration of the event.

Who was the target audience for your event? How did you go about spreading the word of the event?

We were primarily targeting Londoners of all ages with an interest in the themes of ruination. However, we found visitors were coming from near and far. We had children, adults, individuals, and groups attending. We advertised our event on Facebook and put up posters around the local area. Students helped by handing out leaflets on the day to people around Birkbeck.

The exhibition was an enormous success seeing in excess of 100 visitors from all over the country. Feedback in the guest book included ‘impressive turnout from the public’, ‘excellent opportunity’, ‘never thought of the topics the artists explored in such a way before! Thank you’, ‘truly enlightening’, ‘interesting and unexpected find’, and ‘well researched’. Some comments were from young people; one commented on the importance of the exhibition for their A-Level study.

How useful did you find it to be part of the Being Human festival?

It is exciting to be part of such a big event. The students who were involved with the project really enjoyed the whole process, as shown by the films and interviews we recorded. We were also able to achieve a lot without funding and this showed my students and our guests that amazing art and an amazing event can take place without a large financial input.

Do you have any top tips for future Being Human event organisers?

My advice is to inform as many people as you can about your event and encourage participation and help. The event was unfunded but I was able to borrow and procure lots of resources by asking colleagues, other departments, and administrators.


This project was part of the Being Human open pathway. To be part of Being Human 2018 and submit an open pathway event please visit our ‘get involved’ page.