In this post we want to showcase one of the prizes we sponsor which is very close to our hearts. As an organisation whose mission is ‘to inspire a lifelong love of learning about subjects from art and architecture to history, literature and music‘, we see this competition as a perfect opportunity to combine learning with creative flair.

A still from Amber Bardell’s winning 2017 entry.

The competition

SPoKE  is an art historical, documentary film-making competition, open to students in years 11, 12 or 13. Each year, Director Nick joins a hand-picked panel of experts to thoughtfully watch the short, 5 – 7 minute videos submitted on the subject of any one work (painting, sculpture, drawing, print, multimedia, conceptual or performance art, and architecture). In the past these have included artists such as Artemesia Gentileschi, Basquiat, Andy Warhol, Yayoi Kusama, Banksy and Marcel Duchamp.

The prizes

The prizes are £200, £100 and two runner up prizes of £50 each. However, as with our own Trenchard Cox Scholarship, we truly believe it is all about the taking part (see Nick’s video below). Excitingly, in addition to the main SPoKE prizes, this year The Horseboy Foundation is offering a special prize of £200 for the film which most thoughtfully reflects either on an artist with special needs or an artwork that is concerned with an issue directly related to special needs.

A Basquiat-inspired mood board from 2018

How it works

As Tim Porter, production manager on Finding Neverland and one of the judges at the first ever award ceremony pointed out, each student has to get their head around a set of skills performed by separate teams in the industry: edit, transition, sound, integration of clips and animation. After the submissions have been assessed, a shortlist is published, followed by an awards ceremony where the winners are announced and the winning films shown to the audience.

Still from Gesture, a work of art created by Manju Shandler, as a response to 9/11

The story so far

SPoKE was founded in 2015 by Tom Parsons, long time friend and colleague of our Director, Nick Ross. Tom had asked his A-level History of Art class at St Mary’s Ascot to research a particular topic in the weeks following the AS exam, a period when it was tricky to get them to work fruitfully on the A2 syllabus. Tom says ‘To make the task different from our normal manner of working I decided on a topic which I subdivided into sections: visual analysis, materials and techniques, social and historical context. The students were asked to make a short film of their particular section which could then be spliced together to form a whole. Their technical skills with image manipulation, I hoped, would make the task more enjoyable than formal essay writing, especially for those who found the latter more challenging.’

With the example of the ARTiculation Prize before him, Tom felt that his classroom project could be the beginning of something greater. He sent details out to all the art history teachers he knew and secured sponsorship from the school and from Art History Abroad.

People testing Anish Kapoor's Black Hole

Still from a film about Anish Kapoor

Tom was also invited to speak at an art history conference at Godolphin and Latymer School (home of the first winner) and has given presentations at the Association for Art History’s Ways of Seeing conference and at the art history conference at Heathfield School. Word has spread and the entries have grown each year as art history teachers seize the opportunity to encourage their pupils’ creative talents hand in hand with their academic ones.

What the teachers and judges say

I have been hugely impressed by the initiative and creativity shown by our students when offered the challenge of the SPoKE project. For us, the emphasis on independent research and learning, coupled with the encouragement to engage with a hands-on national project, is hugely exciting. It is also so rewarding to watch the self-confidence and personal belief that develop with this kind of invitation.
Sarah Philips, Head of Art History, Godalming College

I thought the winning films were really very impressive: creative, challenging, engaged. It’s a wonderful competition.
James Gay-Rees, 2015 judge and Oscar-winning producer of ‘Amy’ and ‘Senna’

Past winners

The 2017 winner, Amber Bardell, put together this film for SPoKE – ‘it’s so important that we find creative ways of learning about art because it makes it more memorable and inclusive’. Head over to her YouTube channel to see her winning entry.

Alice Wade took second prize in 2017 with her film, profiled here, on Yayoi Kusama’s Obliteration Room saying:

Over the Christmas holidays we visited Copenhagen and I was inspired by Kusama’s exhibition in the Louisiana Museum.  I made the film in a couple of days and edited it while travelling back to school after the holidays.  Making the film gave me the opportunity to expand my awareness about art and engage with the interests of this particular artist.

Holly Hanson won the 2018 prize with Through the eyes of an installation artist, having heard Tom speak at the Association for Art History’s ‘Ways of Seeing’ conference and was inspired to enter. She said:

I wanted it to be more than just a film about artwork.  I wanted it to be a tool for an audience to feel a connection with art and how this adapts into everyday life and how we can learn new things from our world around us.

The judges

Nick Ross, Director of AHA,  Abigail Harrison Moore, Professor of Art History and Museum Studies, Leeds University and Rupert Isaacson, author, producer and founder of The Horse Boy Foundation  have been judges since 2015.

This year they will be joined by:

Jeremy Bugler

Producer of Private Life of a Masterpiece

Trevor Horsewood

Campaigns Manager, Association for Art History

Katie Kingzett

Director of Marketing, Vice Media Ltd

Orlaith Turner

Head of Studio at BlinkInk

In 2019, Nick was unable to attend the awards ceremony but sent this video from Italy; note how important he thinks it is to add scholarships and prizes to your CV, even if you did not win!


What to do next?

This year the submission deadline is 20 January 2020, the announcement of the shortlist, 24 February and the Awards ceremony will be in March. For more information go to their website page and scroll down to SPoKE and follow the competition on Instagram. Note that there are separate declaration forms for the SPoKE prizes and The Horseboy Foundation prize.


One response to “SPoKE: a brilliant filmmaking competition for students”

  1. Ben Hewson says:

    The post you shared here is very informative. Thanks for sharing this great stuff here with us.

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