Profession: Promoting young talent – what can be done?

21. May 2015

Every species on our planet does its utmost to guarantee its survival
Why is the lighting design community sometimes so hard pushed when it comes to promoting young talent?

Text: Alison Ritter

There are many young people out there today who are prepared to embark on a career in Lighting. Some of them have a degree in Architecture or another design discipline, and somewhere along the way have discovered they want to study – yes study – Lighting Design. What is being done to support and promote them? “The future lies with the young generation”. When we make statements like this we have to be careful we are not simply passing the buck. It is not enough to spend your life designing award-winning projects, perhaps write a book about it and then retire to focus on wine-tasting. Pioneers in a new field, let’s say Lighting Design, are a great source of inspiration, but they also have a responsibility: not only to encourage younger people to follow in their footsteps, but to ensure that the know-how and skills that form the basis of a career in Lighting Design can be learnt and put to the test – and added to with time and according to a structured path. Lighting Design is not what it was 20 years ago. New technologies have indeed expanded the scope for creativity, but they need to be handled with care so that the designed outcome is meaningful, safe and sustainable. This is not a case of trust. It is something that can be learned. But let us look at what initiatives there are around the world – apart from the academic programmes dedicated to qualifying (generally young) people in the field. Being granted a Bachelor or Master degree is, after all, a significant step towards recognition, at least for what you have studied, researched and been examined on. Different associations or organisations celebrate young designers regularly, often in the form of an annual, or biennial, award. The Society of Light and Lighting, which is based in the UK, have been running the Young Lighter programme for 20 years now. Young designers under the age of 30 are invited to submit abstracts. The shortlisted candidates are then required to write a paper of 3000 words, and the selected finalists invited to present at LuxLive in London. SLL also support Ready Steady Light, which is now in its thirteenth year. Seventeen teams compete against each other to design and set up temporary exterior installations. Each team is provided with equipment and they have only 180 minutes to complete and install their designs. Giving young talents grants is another very practical way of promoting them and their work or studies. The Jonathan Speirs Scholarship Fund provides support to students of Architecture who wish to “investigate the study of Architectural Lighting Design”. JSSF is funded by donations, mainly from the lighting, architecture, and engineering communities.
The 2014 award was made to Cashel Brown, a postgraduate student of Lighting Design at Edinburgh Napier University. Cashel: “At present, I am part way through my postgraduate studies in Lighting Design at Edinburgh Napier University and am working towards my final dissertation and project on the theme of lighting’s contribution to place-making in the public realm, with a focus upon ‘micro space’ and neglected spaces within the urban landscape. The award has enabled me to focus solely on my work this year and allowed me to attend industry events and conferences to widen my knowledge and experience. During my undergraduate studies in Architecture, lighting was a low priority with little focus on the subject and little was done to promote the subject to potential young talent. This award goes some way to raise the profile of lighting design and has allowed me to explore the relationship between lighting and architecture. It presents Lighting Design as a creative practice with vast potential for a thriving career. The scholarship has given incredibleenhancement to my postgraduate study in many ways: in creating conversation with the industry, in boosting my confidence with regard to my personal work, and in a financial regard, meaning I can focus solely on developing the skills necessary to thrive in the profession. It is a unique and valuable opportunity for those with an architectural background to pursue an interest in Lighting”.

Among the PLD Recognition awards, which are presented during the gala evening as a conclusion to the Convention, there is also an award for the Best Newcomer. This particular award recognises a designer who is new to the scene, or whose recently completed work deserves to be recognised for ist innovative or state-of-the-art lighting design within complex projects. Past winners have gone on to work on even more demanding projects and some of them are now heading leading design practices. The Challenge, a speaker competition in four Rounds organised by VIA that accompanies the build-up to PLDC offers young designers the opportunity to be discovered and, above all, to discover themselves – the chance to find their place on an international platform, to define their own way forward, to understand the responsibility they have in shaping the future, raising quality and ensuring that light and lighting are planned and applied by design. Round I comprised a call for topics at universities participating in the programme. Round II was a digital round involving up to ten students from the different universities addressed in Round I. The young speakers were required to film a three-minute “elevator pitch” to convince a jury of five lighting professionals. In Round III the sixteen young talents, some still students at renowned universities around the world, some newly qualified professionals who recently started work for different well established professional lighting practices in the USA and Europe, who made it through Round II were invited to Edinburgh from 2. – 3. February, 2015 to present their topics of choice, supported by their coaches – professional lighting specialists. The five coaches are: Brendan Keely, Emrah Baki Ulas, Florence Lam, Iain Ruxton and Tapio Rosenius. The event in Edinburgh included a small sponsors’ area, presentations from the coaches on the status quo of different professional practice issues, and a fun, but thoughtprovoking student debate on “LEDs are the only valid light source”, which was chaired by Iain Macrae from Thorn Lighting. The hardest task in Round III was for the coaches to select the finalists from their respective teams with whom they will be competing in Rome at PLDC in the final Round of

The Challenge 2014/15 edition. Iain Ruxton summed up after the event: “The standard of the papers has been very high and it leaves me thinking the future of the profession is in good shape!”
The following talents will be competing against each other in Rome:

-Team Brendan:
Pernille Krieger/DK and
Eik Lykke Nielsen/DK

-Team Emrah:
Roslyn Leslie/UK

-Team Florence:
Isabel Sanchez/E/USA

-Team Iain:
Stephanie Denholm/UK

-Team Tapio:
Mahdis Aliasgari/IR/S

The Light Symposium, which is held every two years between the PLDC years, and takes place at either Wismar Uiversity or KTH in Stockholm, basically helps draw attention to schools. The programme features some big names to attract a reasonably sized audience and give young generation designers the chance to network with experienced design professionals. The Light Symposium at KTH in 2014 incorporated a series of young speakers’ papers, the best of which received a prize at the closing dinner. Unfortunately, not many students were able to afford the cost for the dinner so the last evening was something of a closed circle. The idea of promoting young talent was definitely present, but maybe needs to be thought through, or sponsoring money allocated differently. A recent “effort” in the name of the professional lighting design world which is also not helpful to graduates or newly qualified designers is the CLD (Certified Lighting Designer) programme contrived by the IALD. Well meant though it may be for designers with a specific amount of experience, who may voluntarily wish to take part in the programme, it does not acknowledge young people with a Bachelor or Master degree in Lighting Design. Why? “As there is no standardized curriculum for lighting education around the world, this is not currently an anticipated requirement for applying for the credential”. The IALD further explain that “in all likelihood” an autonomous governing body would make all of the decisions relative to the certification and would oversee the process of developing the application. Such a body would need to remain objective and not be related to any existing lighting design organization. Right now, this independent body cannot exist on its own, and would “initially need to be administered by the IALD to get on its feet”. Whatever you think of the CLD programme per se, it is sad – and wrong – not to take any notice of those who have dedicated several years of study to acquiring the basic knowledge and skills required to be able to design lighting. These creative minds have achieved a significant step towards a career in lighting and, according to the CLD programme, are not entitled to any recognition for that. The term “career ladder” is not exactly new. Think about it!

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