Royal College of Art students launch virtual gallery of works that were ‘lost or damaged’ during lockdown

Twenty-six students who say their work went missing or was damaged at the Royal College of Art (RCA) in London during lockdown are showing their “lost art” online. The Royal College of Lost Art interactive website allows visitors to browse a virtual gallery; a disclaimer at the beginning says that the “art in this exhibition [by former graduate students] no longer exists”.

The RCA closed on 18 March last year in the wake of the pandemic. “The RCA remained closed until September 2020 and, just before reopening, packed up the studios of the students who could not travel to London during Covid-19 lockdown to collect their possessions in person. All assurances were given that their items would be stored and packed with care,” the students say in a statement.

“All unnamed boxes and wrapped works were placed into the same storage spaces. The contents of these boxes had to be later photographed and looked through to find possible names written inside books,” the students claim. “The process of finding the owners of original works, and pencils, paintbrushes, oil paint, printing ink, books, trainers, and cameras etc. is ongoing”, they say.

Since then, more than 150 students subsequently complained to the college, with works lost ranging in value from a few hundred pounds to more than £30,000. Earlier this year, the RCA emailed the students a compensation form. The college will accept compensation claims for raw materials, personal items, and work confirmed as sold to buyers before being lost (the students must provide proof in order to be compensated).

On the latest Red Transmissions podcast, one of the students involved, Arabella Hope says: “[The RCA] keep ignoring us and then fighting us in the most depressingly corporate way… they still won’t put in writing that they’ve lost my studio.” Hope and another student, Farvash Razavi, are taking the RCA to court.

Angela Mitten, RCA’s director of estates and operations, who oversaw the clearing out of works and studios belonging to more than 2,500 students, tells The Art Newspaper: “It’s a more complex picture than presented. The students left quickly when lockdown was announced. Nobody touched anything for three months.”

She adds: “Since we reopened in September 2020, we have invited students to come in and collect their works. There is a clear process whereby all students can contact the RCA. All items have been photographed and catalogued.”

Regarding compensation, Mitten says that, “we have been telling students through the internet and emails what the status of the process is and how they can engage with it. Two students have so far made a claim.” She urges the students to engage with the process the RCA has set out so that “we can provide them with compensation for items lost or damaged”.