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Every year Kettle’s Yard gives students the chance to borrow one of their art pieces for the year.

The Student Picture Loan Scheme began in 1954, but it wasn’t until her second year at Cambridge that Emma Davis (who now helps present-day students access the gallery) discovered the wonders of Kettle’s Yard.

Speaking about Kettle’s Yard founder Jim Ede, Emma reveals that Ede 'always intended the gallery, first and foremost, to be for students.' Emma recollects that her first borrowed piece hung 'above the fake fireplace in my third-year room.'

Emma explains that on the day you go to Kettle’s Yard, in order to 'thumb through the works which is an essential part of the experience', the piece that you end up choosing 'really needs to be something you visually, or intellectually, or conceptually connect with when you look at it'.

She elaborates that you can’t 'just think in that five-second moment whether it’s pleasing'. Rather, you need to 'think about whether you can live with it and whether it will keep intriguing you.'

Think about whether you can live with it

Nowadays, finding decorative inspiration often means being 'over-burdened with images on Instagram or Pinterest.' Emma, however, claims we should learn to be 'comfortable with not having everything but just having one or two precious things.'

She explains how the artwork on loan can be 'a bit of a talking point when people come round.'  Unlike a poster, something with the 'hand of the artist in it always gives you a moment to pause and think.'

Emma also humbly explains, she has helped to integrate financial assistance as part of the scheme. 'The thing that my name’s attached to – embarrassingly – is the bursary.' She says 'although for some students it’s not a lot of money, I know when I was a student £50 was a lot.'

Generously, she’s decided to give money to allow up to 25 pieces to be given for free to 'students in receipt of either a Cambridge Bursary, a College Hardship Grant, or an Anglia Ruskin equivalent.' She adds, 'I’m hoping there will be 25 students to take that up this year. But moreover, I’m hoping that there will be 300 students who come and take a work from the collection.'

It always gives you a moment to pause and think

I asked her why it meant so much to her to donate money, despite what some may see as a potentially trivial scheme. 'I think that there are plenty of bigger institutional causes that can give someone £20 off their energy bill. I’m not saying have a piece of art on your wall and it will be fine because you can be cold but enjoy the art,' Emma quips.

Rather, Emma 'feels that we spend a lot of our time and energy optimising every aspect of our lives to the nth degree and I find something that really slows me down and helps me to think is art.'


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For Emma, the artwork on loan 'can ask questions, it can prompt conversation, it can do a lot more than the oil on the canvas.' She claims that 'one of the most exciting things about the student loan collection is that there are a lot of contemporary artists there and a lot of artists who perhaps are not part of the canon and you wouldn’t see in most of the big university collections.'

Ultimately, Emma concludes that 'whether you want to talk about female artists or marginal groups, they’re all represented there– and are conversing with the collection.'

For more information about the scheme, visit Kettle’s Yard Website