Students studying at University of Kent Paris Centre

Kent in Europe Alumni Profiles: Sarah Bolwell

As part of Kent's celebrations of 20 years in Europe we talk to alumni from our European centres to hear about the work they have done since graduating. Sarah Bolwell studied the History and Philosophy of Art MA in Paris and is now Assistant Articles Editor at The Burlington Magazine.

What attracted you to the course?

The fact that the course was in Paris was a major draw. Studying art history in Paris allows you to really get up close to the paintings and artworks under discussion. You can trace the history of modern art on every street corner in Paris, as well as in the galleries.

The building where Kent’s Paris School of Arts and Culture is based is also home to other major universities such as Columbia (New York), and Sarah Lawrence College, which gives you the chance to meet and share ideas with other students. The building is also just a stone’s throw from Modigliani’s studio, one of Picasso’s studios and a whole heap of bars that Hemingway drank at.

Studying in Paris also gave me the chance to develop my language skills, not just in the bars and marchés – the School provides a French tuition class.

What was your course like?

The course was great in that it filled in the gaps in my art historical knowledge. The set texts were challenging and engaging; seminar discussions were often lively. All the lecturers who come to teach at the Paris centre are internationally recognised academics, but still approachable and genuinely interested in your research. I had a great relationship with my supervisor, although he was based in Canterbury, I was always able to get in touch to talk through ideas and possible research directions.

I also took advantage of the chance to attend modules from other disciplines, sitting in on some English literature seminars and participating in a creative writing class.

And your fellow students?

We were the first cohort to spend the whole year in Paris. I’m British, but there were several Americans, a student from Iran and another from Turkey. We were a diverse group and I made friends for life. Kent presented us with lots of opportunities and we jumped at all of them – visits to the Ambassador’s house, grants to go on study trips, attending other universities’ lectures, organising conferences, the student magazine, the list goes on.

How did your course lay the foundations for your chosen career path?

Before my MA, I was working at the Royal Academy of Arts in London for their Friends’ magazine. I also undertook freelance writing gigs for various arts publications, I wrote a lot for free – it’s good practice more than anything else and gets your name out there. It took a while to build contacts in the arts sector but I loved what I was doing and worked hard. My previous experience helped me get the job I have now but I absolutely wouldn’t have got it were it not for my MA. I learnt how to use collections for research and being Editor of The Menteur – the Paris student arts and literary magazine – gave me a big step up at the interview. The Menteur also gave me commissioning experience, which has proved invaluable.

Could you describe your career path since leaving Kent?

I was very lucky in that I was headhunted for a role at The Burlington Magazine (an academic art historical journal founded in 1903) while I was still in Paris. It all happened very quickly: I handed in my MA dissertation on Friday, packed my bags Saturday, got the Eurostar back to London on Sunday and then started my job on Monday morning! I started as Production Editor and am now Assistant Articles Editor.

Could you describe a typical day in your current role?

Mainly reading which is great! We have around six main articles per issue and I have the second edit of all of them, after the Editor. Within that is fact-checking, maintaining house style and making sure all the footnotes are correct. We have a lot of articles and reviews submitted in French so there’s often translating and interpretation to be done.

What are your future plans?

For now, I plan to stay in editorial and develop my skills, but further down the line I’d like to get into collections management.

Do you have any other happy memories of Paris that you would like to share with us?

Too many to mention! The marching band at the Queen’s birthday party at the Ambassador’s residence; chairing a panel discussion on the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death at the British Council; a poetry reading in a print workshop; a boat cruise down the Seine; cheap but excellent wine; cycling to Versailles; drinking strong coffees on the canal; mint tea in the Grand Mosque; going into Chanel on rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré pretending I can afford the clothes; and the smell of bread everywhere.

Finally, what advice would you give to graduates thinking of studying at the Paris School of Arts and Culture?

Just do it. Throw yourself into the course and the French culture and it’ll be the best year of your life. Don’t be worried about it hindering your career progression, it will be the complete opposite. Employers love it when you can speak passionately about something and anything that helps you stick out from the crowd is a bonus.