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Doing her bit for student hardship

Friday 18 September 2020 9:10am

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Dr Elaine Webster with a classic Christian Dior fashion shot

With many students struggling and an office full of art that she needed to empty, Dr Elaine Webster had a great idea on how to raise funds for Pūtea Tautoko, the student hardship fund, while leaving a wee piece of herself on campus.

Before leaving the University in late August, the Summer and Continuing Education Director organised an email auction of some of her artwork collected over more than 20 years working at the University – to support the fund.

The fund was created to support students facing hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with the University committing an initial $1.5 million, while further funding was received from the Government. Together with the contributions from donors, the funding received now totals close to $3.5 million.

Students from right across the University community are being supported by the fund – from International students, to first year undergraduates to final year PhD students. They include students cut off from financial support from home, and domestic students whose part-time work or wider family finances have been hit hard by the pandemic.

“I’ve been downsizing my house, as it is already full of art, and I thought how can I put all this lovely art to good use? I thought why not let people have some of it and why not support the student hardship fund at the same time,” Dr Webster says.

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Dr Elaine Webster and her dress that she auctioned off for Pūtea Tautoko

Dr Webster (BCApSc, 2000, MCApSc 2002, and PhD 2006) decided to email those who had admired her art collection, and soon received bids for much of it. She says most of her collection was by other people, although she did include a dress that she had made, which turned out to be a hotly contested item (her background is in fashion and textiles) and a sequinned elephant.

“People have been really warm and generous, and they’ve solved a problem while letting some of my art stay on here at campus. When I told some of them that the auction was for the student hardship fund they gave extra.

“There’s just some fantastic people working on this campus and it was a really nice way to make a lingering connection with them through art.”

She says the artwork included posters from a show she worked on a few years ago. “I did a Special Exhibition with Dr Donald Kerr called Fashion Rules Okay, and we had some fantastic posters blown up, and they’ve been in my office for around four years.”

Although Dr Webster recently left the University, she says it’s just the start of her next adventure.

“I’m not retiring, I will have a little holiday and finish my novel, which includes twins as the theme (she is an identical twin and has always been fascinated by the subject) and then decide what I want to do after that.”

So far, Dr Webster has raised more than $500 towards Pūtea Tautoko. The fund itself has received $386,000 in donations from more than 700 donors.

The fund is helping cover utility and electricity bills, accommodation costs, travel costs back to campus, essential groceries and toiletries. Significant ongoing demand is expected for 2020, and the fund will continue to operate in 2021 as well.

All students are eligible to apply to the fund. Applications are considered by several panels, all including student representation. The panels robustly assess hardship, using tools the University already has to assess applications for existing hardship funds, and for needs-based scholarships.