A Global Student-Run Art Show

POSTED ON: May 20, 2020

Ben Werther A'20, Your Teeth, Nasa, and The Simpsons, 2020.
Ben Werther A'20, Your Teeth, Nasa, and The Simpsons, 2020.

The BFA Show 2020, a global, student-organized, digital art exhibition featuring works by undergraduates from over 65 art schools, was born out of the determination of School of Art senior Ben Werther. Disappointed that due to the worldwide pandemic he was unable to hold his physical senior show, a rite of passage for School of Art students, Werther had an idea to showcase his and other Cooper student work, approaching alumni Lucien Smith A’11 for assistance. He thought Smith’s Serving the People (STP), an online platform for creative inquiry and experimentation, might be a space to virtually display student work.    

“I have known Lucien for several years and this past February after I had a short exhibition at a gallery near Cooper; we uploaded images of the work to STP, giving the show a longer life,” says Werther. “When it became clear that we could no longer display our art physically I thought if we pool together, we could build something new, and that’s when I started thinking about Lucien and STP.”    

Simultaneously, Werther spoke with a close friend at The Pratt Institute and together they began imagining a New York City student-run art school collaborative group show. But as Werther began reaching out to students at other schools, word of mouth spread, and he thought, why not the whole world?

“The goal was to bring together as many students as possible, and this was the perfect excuse to do that,” Werther continues. “I might as well try to get all the art schools—and it would be super cool if it worked. I spent a day reaching out to everyone I knew at different schools and that was how we came up with the student representative at each school who would enlist their friends.”

After a core 25 student representatives from schools like Rhode Island School of Design and School of the Art Institute of Chicago was in place, the group designed a BFA 2020 poster with submission information to share organically and increase student participation. As new art schools were added, each appointed student representative would work to garner submissions. In addition, STP’s social media and coverage of the callout in artnet, Paper Magazine, and more, helped spread news of the BFA 2020 show, which would accept one work for every student who submitted.

“I am very excited,” Werther says. “I have seen all the work and am thankful for this exhibition as it’s also giving me an opportunity to connect with others, many of whom make work that is similar to my practice and who I might not have ever met before. I want to see people reach out and begin a dialogue and connect about their work.”  

“I’m so inspired by the hundreds of submissions we’ve received,” adds Smith. “It’s so exciting to see how fast the BFA Show grew, and all the amazing support from students all around the world is so motivating. It’s proof to me that a platform like STP is needed and can be versatile and effective even during this crazy time."

Johnathan Wilborn A'20, (Untitled) Pride of Life, 2020
Johnathan Wilborn A'20, (Untitled) Pride of Life, 2020

The BFA 2020 show went live on May 21 with a student-built-virtual reception. Werther says they aim to keep the show online permanently. Of the over 800 students displaying works, 60 are from The Cooper Union School of Art ranging from first years to seniors, including senior Johnathan Wilborn who also played an instrumental role in helping recruit some of the student representatives at schools around the world.

“I feel extremely fortunate to contribute to this project simply as a messenger to other talented young artists. Leaving school now it feels great to end the semester with this extremely special group effort; hopefully this can create a sense of community for creatives around the world because we are going to need each other,” says Wilborn.

  • Founded by inventor, industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1859, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art offers education in art, architecture and engineering, as well as courses in the humanities and social sciences.

  • “My feelings, my desires, my hopes, embrace humanity throughout the world,” Peter Cooper proclaimed in a speech in 1853. He looked forward to a time when, “knowledge shall cover the earth as waters cover the great deep.”

  • From its beginnings, Cooper Union was a unique institution, dedicated to founder Peter Cooper's proposition that education is the key not only to personal prosperity but to civic virtue and harmony.

  • Peter Cooper wanted his graduates to acquire the technical mastery and entrepreneurial skills, enrich their intellects and spark their creativity, and develop a sense of social justice that would translate into action.