The British street artist Banksy will become an honorary professor at the University for the Creative Arts (UCA), an art school with campuses in the southeast of England. But students hoping to attend lectures on stencilling or sit in on seminars about political activism will be disappointed as the title is purely symbolic.
“Banksy is one of the UK’s best-known artists, famous throughout the world—an example that UCA students can look up to,” says UCA’s president and vice-chancellor Bashir Makhoul. “[He] uses his talents to disrupt the status quo, while challenging us all to confront some of the key issues of our time: war and peace, inequality, and art’s role as a vehicle of social expression.”
The artist will be receiving the honour “in recognition of his humanitarian efforts and the impact he has had on the global arts scene”, according to a statement from the university. Banksy has created works around the world, including setting up a street stall in Venice; engraving Israel's separation wall in Bethlehem; spray painting a London underground train; making murals around New York and the on the side of a prison in Reading; creating a pop-up shop in Croydon; and even pranking the auction world with a self-destroying work at Sotheby's. He is also known for his activism, including the funding of a boat to rescue refugees in the Mediterranean; encouraging people to wear facemasks on public transport during the pandemic; bringing attention to homelessness at Christmastime; and supporting Extinction Rebellion.
According to a UCA spokesperson, Banksy "has not given a response to being given this honourary professorship, other than to confirm his acceptance". The artist, whose identity remains a secret despite many years of tabloid speculation, will not be present when the award is given on 6 July during a graduation ceremony at London’s Royal Festival Hall. Instead, the professorship will be conferred to an empty chair (which might, if we are being generous, be seen as a nod to the art historical symbolism of other empty chairs).
Previous honourary professors include the designer Terence Conran, the artist Morag Myerscough and the cellist Julian Lloyd Webber. UCA has campuses in Canterbury, Rochester, Epsom, Farnham and Maidstone, and its alumni include the artists Tracey Emin, Billy Childish and Humphrey Ocean.