How NUA gained a global reputation for digital design in Norwich

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From a hidden treasure with a long history but a low profile to being globally recognized for the training of creative talents working across the globe.

Norwich University of the Arts (NUA) has come a long way since Professor John Last took over as Vice-Chancellor in 2009.


Norwich University of the Arts.
– Credit: Archant

During his more than ten years at the helm, he led the institution to achieve university status in 2012 and become known worldwide for its exciting talented artists in everything from computer game design to fashion.

When he took office as vice-chancellor, a colleague told him it was a hidden gem, but as he prepares to retire in 2021, he is leaving a university at the forefront of the creative industries of high technology.

“One of the things I wanted was to try and help people not only in the area but nationally as well, to know what a great art school Norwich has had over the past 175 years. I am happy that we have managed to raise the profile, “he said.


    Paintings and illustrations, textiles, designs, photographs, films, animations, games of

Paintings and illustrations, textiles, photographs, films, animations, game demos and sculptures all feature in the annual graduate exhibitions at Norwich University of the Arts.
– Credit: Steve Adams


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The institution was founded in 1845 when the Norwich School of Design was established to supply designers to local industries, founded and supported by artists and followers of the Norwich School of Painters.

Today it has over 2,000 students, many of whom are drawn to Norfolk from all over the world, with alumni working in everything from special effects to films to some of the world’s greatest museums and galleries.


NUA window projection of students working to celebrate the university's 170th anniversary.Photo: ANTO

The student NUA window projection works to celebrate the university’s 170th anniversary in 2015.
– Credit: Archant

Mr Last said: “We have always had students from other regions and countries, but if you look at the data, we certainly get people from further afield.

“The entry criteria and the general capacity upon arrival are now extremely high. We have very talented young people studying with us.

The key to attracting some of the brightest was college status. “It was one of the things the governors asked me to try to achieve when I was appointed and it seemed to be a mark of the maturity of the place,” he added.


Prof John Last of Norwich University of the Arts (NUA) Photo: ANTONY KELLY

Professor John Last, who is due to retire as Vice-Chancellor of Norwich University of the Arts (NUA).
– Credit: Archant

Now one of Britain’s leading arts, architecture, design and media universities, it adds £ 17million per year to the local economy and provides a flow of talent to the digital, creative and tech industries booming Norwich.

When he took over, adapting to the high-tech digital world was seen as the key to the university’s success, Mr. Last said.

“We hadn’t gone digital as much as in other parts of the country, but it was obvious that there was a real demand for it,” he said. “Our work in games was really pioneering and once we realized how well we had a solid course in the game, we started to develop a very solid media school.


Norwich University of the Arts Vice Chancellor Professor John Last discusses digital work with

Norwich University of the Arts Vice Chancellor Professor John Last discusses digital work with a student.
– Credit: Archant

“Our work is now internationally recognized. Last month we were named one of the World’s 50 Best in The Rookies Gaming Schools. “

Graduates went on to work with global leaders like gaming company EA and the legendary visual effects company Industrial Light & Magic of Star Wars founder George Lucas.

“It is always nice to see graduates succeed in any discipline or sphere and now we are fortunate to have graduates from all over the world who are making a difference from fashion to the fine arts and especially in games, ”Mr. Durer said.


Students from Norwich University of the Arts take part in the Global Games Jam.  Image: Norwich Universe

Students from Norwich University of the Arts take part in the Global Games Jam. NUA has gained a worldwide reputation for designing games.
– Credit: Norwich University of the Arts

“We have emerging game artists who are expected to be very important over the next decade.”

Mr Last is expected to be replaced as vice-chancellor by Simon Ofield-Kerr, who was previously at the University of the Arts in London. Although traditional skills like fine art painting remain, he sees the institution continuing to respond to technological advancements.

He said: “Our work on visual effects developed in the same way as games, because when we first introduced it, it was a nascent topic. New disciplines are emerging driven by technologies. “


The Norwich University of the Arts Masters Art Exhibition.  Vicky Brooke studies Henry's work

Work on display at the Norwich University of the Art MA Art Exhibition in 2016.
– Credit: Copyright: Archant 2016

In the meantime, he intends to take a step back.

“I spent 12 years at NUA which have been incredibly enjoyable years and have had the opportunity to work with wonderful Chancellors.

“It taught me that nice fortuitous things just happen, so I’m looking to see what the future holds.”


NUA Degree Show, 2018.Photo: ANTONY KELLY

Creative fashion designs by NUA students.
– Credit: Archant

NOTABLE NUA SUCCESS STORIES

Jordan Grimmer, concept artist at EA (Electronic Arts), the video game company.

Mary Sinclair Gibson, junior product designer at H&M headquarters in Stockholm.

Sophia George, the first game designer in residence at V&A.

Anita Clipston, senior composer / painter at Industrial Light & Magic / Lucasfilm.

Amy Shore, Senior UX Consultant at Foolproof.

Henry Driver, internationally renowned digital artist whose work has been exhibited at Tate Britain, Barbican & Whitechapel Gallery.


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