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Harmony, Contrast & Discord: John Beck and Matthew Cornford

18 May – 3 July 2021

The catalyst for this exhibition is an ongoing collaborative project by writer John Beck and artist Matthew Cornford to track down and visit all of the UK’s art schools – including Rochdale School of Art – and record the sites as they are today in photographs and words. The project was prompted by the discovery in 2009 that the college they had both attended in the 1980s was now a disused building up for sale.

A documentary artwork in itself, the project is also a rich and multi-faceted investigation into the value placed on arts education and, in particular, reveals the legacy of the post-war boom in art schools. It questions the role that art should and could have in broader society, both now and in the future.

The exhibition is broken down into three inter-related spaces:

  • In Gallery Three we look at the local history of Rochdale School of Art and hear the stories of some of the people who taught and studied at the School over the years.
  • Gallery Four presents a special North West-focused display of Beck and Cornford’s project, featuring images of the art school sites that were once integral to the region’s creative life.
  • Finally, in Your Space (on the ground floor) we’ve created a ‘think-tank’. Introducing a range of new models for art education and hosting a programme of debates and workshops, we invite you to get hands-on and share your views.

The title, ‘Harmony, Contrast & Discord’ is taken from chapters in a book on colour theory written in 1915 by Henry Barrett Carpenter, the first Head of Rochdale School of Art. While Carpenter used these terms as ways of describing the visual relationships between colours, the words also capture the spirit of the art schools charted in this exhibition and their histories and changing fortunes.

Join Curator Bryan Beresford for a tour of the exhibition:

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Civic Aspiration

Often evolving out of Mechanics’ Institutes or Technical Schools, many British art schools were established in the nineteenth century by industrialists, workers and civic leaders to provide factories and workshops with a skilled labour force. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the North West with its textile industry, and Rochdale was no exception. A Technical School was opened in 1893, then extended to house the School of Art in 1906.

Located in an area known as The Gank, the sloping site meant the building had entrances on different levels on King Street, Nelson Street and Church Lane. The grand Victorian architecture with its elaborate stained-glass windows and a terracotta frieze demonstrates strong civic pride. Art schools sat alongside other public buildings – town halls, libraries, museums and galleries – as embodiments of cultural values as well as of economic and political power.

The building continued to be used for art instruction throughout the first half of the twentieth century, but it was when Leopold Solomon was appointed as Principal in 1953 that it truly flourished, growing from just eight enrolled students to 190 full-time and 550 part-time students in just a decade, with twenty-six staff teaching a multitude of art techniques, from painting, sculpture and drawing, to lithography, typography and silversmithing.

In March 1969 disaster struck when fire ripped through the building. It re-opened after a costly repair, but by this time, art classes had already moved to a new, purpose-built facility on the corner of St Mary’s Gate and College Road, later the site of Hopwood Hall College.

After being used for a variety of other purposes in the 1970s and ’80s, the original building closed permanently in 1989 and was subsequently demolished. The terracotta frieze, depicting spinning and metal working was preserved and is displayed in the car park where the building once stood.

Suggestions for the Study of Colour, 1915

Suggestions for the Study of Colour, 1915

Henry Barrett Carpenter
Rochdale School of Art
Collection of Rochdale Arts & Heritage Service

Henry Barrett Carpenter, the first Head of Rochdale School of Art, wrote this short book on colour theory in 1915.

Its main purpose was to help students understand how colours interact so they could use different hues, tints and tones in an informed way.

An understanding of colour was important for both ‘pictorial artists’ (painters) and for designers, including those in the textile industry.

Carpenter identified three ‘great principles’ – Harmony, Contrast and Discord – and his book features vibrant colour illustrations to demonstrate how each works in practice, with suggested exercises for the reader to try for themselves.

Click below to find out more

Design Sample books, 1913

Design Sample books, 1913 Sam Crabtree

Sam Crabtree
Collection of Rochdale Arts & Heritage Service

A student at the Technical School in 1913, Sam Crabtree compiled these books, which contain beautiful designs and woven cotton samples.

They clearly illustrate the strong links between art, design and the textile industry.

Opening of Rochdale Technical School, 1893


Collection of Rochdale Arts & Heritage Service

Two years after Rochdale Council assumed authority for technical education, building work on the Technical School began in 1891.

It was constructed at a cost of over £12,000 (approximately £1.5 million today) with more than half of the funds donated by generous local residents.

The site for the school was part of ‘The Gank’ – a slum area in the town centre – and the land itself was donated by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners.

Capturing the official opening of the school, this photograph shows an assembly of proud dignitaries and reveals the importance of this imposing new civic building.

Technical School site map, 1908

Collection of Rochdale Arts & Heritage Service

This map shows the location of the Technical School building, which by this time also housed the School of Art (founded in 1866 and originally located in Ballie Street).

Interior plan of the first floor, Technical School, date unknown

Collection of Rochdale Arts & Heritage Service

Rooms for life drawing, design, dyeing and chemistry (including laboratories) are all shown to share the first floor of the Technical School building, indicating the dual importance of artistic and scientific skills in the service of the textile industry.

Proposed changes to the Technical School building, date unknown

Collection of Rochdale Arts & Heritage Service

These elevation drawings, created to show proposed changes to the building, reveal the architectural grandeur of the facades and sides of the Technical School.

The diagonal line shows the sloping ground on which it was built, which varied in height by around 32 feet (10 metres) from one end to the other.

Interior of the School of Art, 1907

Interior of the School of Art, 1907

Collection of Rochdale Arts & Heritage Service

This photograph was taken in the shading and antique room where students can be seen making observational drawings of plaster casts of Classical sculptures.

This was a fundamental exercise in most art schools.

From here students would progress to the more challenging proposition of live models, whose physical proportions may not quite have matched the ideals of the Greek and Roman statues.

Technical School (Nelson Street entrance), date unknown

Collection of Rochdale Arts & Heritage Service

Reproduction of Self Portrait, c.1938

Reproduction of Self Portrait, c.1938

Leopold Solomon
Oil on canvas
Pembrokeshire County Art Collection held by Scolton Manor
© Pembrokeshire Museum Service

The Welsh-born painter and sculptor (1919–76) became principal of Rochdale College of Art in 1953 after six years as Master-in-Charge of the Barrow School of Art.

Stained glass window from the Technical School building, c.1891–93

Stained glass window from the Technical School building, c.1891–93

Collection of Rochdale Arts & Heritage Service

This original stained glass window was salvaged from the building before its demolition in the late 1980s.

Despite its sorry state (including improvised handles added by the person who hurriedly saved it), it still testifies to the former glory of the building.

Article from the Rochdale Observer about the fire in 1969

Article from the Rochdale Observer about the fire in 1969

‘It was Rochdale’s most spectacular blaze for years and it is feared damage may amount to as much as £100.000.

Many of the students had years of creative work destroyed in minutes … work which they were due to produce within the next few weeks at interviews for diploma courses in art colleges all over the country.’

A rite of passage

It was often the very idea of ‘art school’ – especially in the post-war years – that gave these institutions an aura of excitement well in excess of their everyday reality as places of study. ‘Going to art school’ as filtered through popular culture, came to represent taking a particular position within society, one that was slightly at odds with mainstream tastes and values. For multiple generations of students, art school became a rite of passage, not only for those who wanted careers as professional visual artists, but also for musicians, writers and many others who were simply looking to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary. Rochdale School of Art was no different. Over the past year we’ve researched and, where possible, made contact with some of the people who studied and/or taught art in Rochdale. They include the highly-influential Leopold Solomon, appointed Principal in 1953; Tony Smart and Christine Pearson, both members of the ‘Rochdale Sculptors’, a group of artists in the late 1960s and early 1970s who took their work to the streets to reach audiences outside of the usual gallery setting; the socially-engaged practice and international outlook of Emrys Morgan and the Rochdale Performance Collective in the 1980s and 1990s; and Angela Tait’s late, life-changing, career shift in the early 2000s.

While it wasn’t possible, in this exhibition, to include stories from everyone who participated in our research, we have valued the time and memories of all involved, and extend our thanks to:

Nicholas Blincoe
Kane Cunningham
Corrine Delargy
Paul Haywood
Bill Hutchinson
Andrew Lord
Martin Reiser
Mark Rothwell
Brian Woods

Leopold Solomon

Head of L.S. Lowry, c.1965
Leopold Solomon (1919–76)
Bronze with marble base
Collection of Rochdale Arts & Heritage Service

Leopold Solomon with L.S. Lowry, 1972
Collection of Rochdale Arts & Heritage Service

I think we can say there is almost a renaissance of the arts in this area.’ – Leopold Solomon

Appointed as Principal in 1953, Solomon greatly developed the reputation of Rochdale College of Art. Teaching was delivered with integrity, freedom and experimentation and with just eight students enrolled when he started, by the mid-1960s the College attracted over 700. He hosted public talks that aimed to challenge existing opinions about art and culture and ensured that the College was connected to the wider artistic community. With his links to renowned artists, Solomon offered many opportunities for students and staff. He sculpted this portrayal of L.S. Lowry on one of his regular visits to the College to critique students’ work.

Jack Crabtree

The Speaker, c.1962 Jack Crabtree (b.1938)

The Speaker, c.1962
Jack Crabtree (b.1938)
Oil on canvas
Collection of Rochdale Arts & Heritage Service

‘I had no intention of doing art, I didn’t know anything about art.’ – Jack Crabtree

Crabtree studied and taught at Rochdale College of Art between 1955 and 1964 and was one of Leopold Solomon’s first students. Coming from a working-class background with little knowledge about art, Crabtree found Solomon ‘absolutely inspiring’ and, with his support, gained a travel bursary to Paris.

Crabtree studied painting at Saint Martin’s School of Art in London and the Royal Academy Schools. His distinctive figurative style won him a major commission from the National Coal Board to capture the changing face of the South Wales’ coalfields in the 1970s. He now lives between the UK and France.

Tony Smart

Four Men in a Boat, 1987 Tony Smart, (b.1938)

Four Men in a Boat, 1987
Tony Smart, (b.1938)
Conte crayon on paper
On loan from the artist

‘The students came to the college because they wanted to be there.’ – Tony Smart

After training at Brighton College of Art and the Royal Academy Schools in London, Smart took a teaching post at Rochdale College of Art in 1965 and was a founding member of the Rochdale Sculptors group.

During Smart’s time at the College it shifted from a specialist art to merged tertiary college, impacting how courses were delivered.

In this artwork, Smart represents his feelings of frustration about these reforms and those responsible. Despite taking early retirement in the 1990s, he went back to night classes to study life drawing and printmaking.

He still lives and works in Rochdale.

Hear Smart talk more about his experiences:

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Christine Pearson

Tibetan Prayer, 1971
Christine Pearson (b.1944)
Wood, aluminium and steel
On loan from the artist

Self Portrait, 1970
Christine Pearson (b.1944)
Glass fibre cast
On loan from the artist

 He Flies by Night, 1971
Christine Pearson (b.1944)
Glass fibre cast
On loan from the artist

 ‘It was so exciting to use so many different materials and disciplines.’ – Christine Pearson

After studying at Rochdale College of Art in the 1960s, Pearson then studied sculpture at Hammersmith College of Art. Having witnessed cynicism and inequality in arts education, she was determined to challenge this when she returned to Rochdale College of Art as a member of the teaching staff in 1967.

Due to changes and cuts within the College in the 1970s, Pearson left to work at Oulder Hill Secondary School, where she helped prepare A-level students for art foundation and degree courses. In 1997, she moved to St Ives, where she continues to sculpt.

Hear Pearson talk more about her experiences:

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Jenni Lomax

Jenni Lomax and pupils from an East London primary school at an Eva Hesse exhibition at Whitechapel Gallery, May 1979. Courtesy of the Whitechapel Gallery Archive.

 Jenni Lomax and school children discussing a Joel Shapiro exhibition at Whitechapel Gallery, January 1980. Courtesy of the Whitechapel Gallery Archive.

 ‘I remember very vividly the kind of freedom at Rochdale Art College.’Jenni Lomax

Frustrated with the class prejudices and restrictions of her grammar school education, Lomax then studied at Rochdale College of Art (1967–69) and Maidstone College of Art. Her training as a maker questioned boundaries and traditions, enabling her to view society with fresh eyes.

Art and education have been integral to her career as a curator, educator and writer. Her ethos of enabling others to access and discover art in its many forms revolutionised arts education at Whitechapel Gallery from 1979 to 1990. She later became Director of Camden Arts Centre and in 2009 she received an OBE for services to the visual arts.

Hear Lomax talk more about her experiences:

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Emrys Morgan

Live Art Poster (for Rochdale Performance Collective), 1985
On loan from Emyrs Morgan 

AFTER Invite and Poster, 1990
On loan from Emyrs Morgan

 Young people working with German and Dutch artists at Falinge Park for Rochdale Artists Workspace c.1990
On loan from Emyrs Morgan

I was submerged in the creative world, with various avenues to explore with likeminded travellers.’ –Emrys Morgan

As a teacher at Rochdale College of Art, Morgan proactively engaged with the local community and forged a strong relationship with Rochdale Art Gallery (now Touchstones) and its pioneering curator, Jill Morgan.

He was an instrumental member of the Rochdale Performance Collective (RPC), programming live art across the borough and beyond in the 1980s and ’90s. Later, Morgan formed the group AFTER, with artists, Paul Heywood, Karen Lyons and Paul McLaren.

With a socially engaged focus, AFTER has toured their work to New York, Russia, Germany and Norway, and has facilitated cultural exchange for international artists wanting to work in Rochdale.

Hear Morgan talk more about his experiences:

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Stuart McKenzie

Harmony, Contrast & Discord Stuart McKenzie display

Stuart McKenzie at College Road site, c.1982
Elaine Constantine (b.1965)
Photographic print
On loan from Stuart McKenzie

Various sketchbooks c.1982-1985
Stuart McKenzie (b.1965)
Ink, pencil and collage on paper
On loan from the artist

The fact you were at art college meant that you wanted to achieve something.’ – Stuart McKenzie

Visual artist, fashion illustrator, poet, and musician, McKenzie studied at Rochdale College of Art from 1982 to 1985. As a queer person he experienced discrimination, but always felt the college created a space for expression and creativity.

Inspired by the many local bands in Middleton at the time, such as The Chameleons, McKenzie gravitated toward music and visual culture.

After studying at St Martins School of Art, he worked as a studio assistant with designer Vivienne Westwood.

As a visual artist he has exhibited his fashion illustrations at TG Gallery, Nottingham and MIART, Milan. He is a published poet, and guitarist and vocalist with the band Wild Daughter.

Hear McKenzie talk more about his experiences:

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Angela Tait

Birch Hill Hospital installation, c.2004
Angela Tait (b.1971)
Digital images
On loan from the artist

‘I had this other life for two and half days a week, where I could be a different person, who wasn’t just tagged with this label mum.’ – Angela Tait

After having children and working in banking, a major career shift led to Tait to Hopwood Hall College (formerly Rochdale College of Art) in 2003, and subsequently pursued her interest in sculpture at the University of Salford. Pictured here is an early installation made by Tait for a site specific project for Birch Hill Hospital, Rochdale.

Investigating her roles in the home and as an artist and the relationship between private and public realms have been recurring themes in her practice. She is currently undertaking a PhD on ‘Ceramics and the Domestic Ritual’ and teaches at Salford’s fine art degree course.

Hear Tait talk more about her experiences:

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Suhail Khan

‘Fancy a Cuppa HindyKushtie?‘ Tilt The Axis MIF 2019 Festival Square Trailer1, Music by Dj Samrai c.2019
Suhail Khan (b.1967)
Video (36 secs)
On loan from the artist

Holes c.2017
Suhail Khan (b.1967)
Video (1 min, 27 secs)
On loan from the artist

Luverly Jubberly c.2017
Suhail Khan (b.1967)
Video (1 min, 9 secs)
On loan from the artist

‘Sometimes the straight forward talking of traditional teachers may not be the right way forward for certain people.’ – Suhail Khan

Khan studied at Rochdale College of Art from 1986 to 1988 and quickly developed an appreciation for video and printmaking, inspired by tutors such as Dan Gillan, Julian Smith and John Brisland. Working across the arts, he has worked on a number of projects for events including Manchester Mela, a festival of South Asian art and culture.

In his artistic practice he produces collaborative music-inspired storytelling work, mixing video and design work and blending archive material and diverse cultural musical influences. His current work explores British identity through new forms of narrative built with fresh eyes incorporating history and contemporary culture.

Watch Khan’s films:

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John Beck and Matthew Cornford
Heritage, History, Resources or Ruins?

As recently as the 1960s there were over 150 art schools across the UK. Most of them have now either closed or been absorbed into larger higher education institutions, their buildings repurposed, remodelled or demolished.

Since 2009, writer John Beck and artist Matthew Cornford have been tracking down the locations of British art schools and photographing these places as they are today. Sometimes the original buildings remain, sometimes they are in transition as building sites and sometimes supermarkets or (as in Rochdale) car parks have taken their place.

Seeking out the sites of art schools is partly a simple act of retrieval; there is no single, readily-available account that tells the history of all the provincial art schools. Aside from this cataloguing process, however, the project has also turned into a much broader investigation into the value of arts in society and how this has changed from past to present. As Beck asks, ‘Are the art schools heritage, history, resources or ruins? Are they just bits of an old order that is no longer relevant, or are they markers of a lost utopian moment where state-funded arts education could take root and help shape towns and cities all over the country?’

In this gallery, we present the photographs taken by Beck and Cornford of art school sites in the North West of England, once an integral aspect of the creative life of the region. The aim is to celebrate and reflect on the prominent place they once held – both actual and imagined – but also to consider the future state of arts education and the transformational role creativity can play in all our lives. Indeed, it is interesting to think about the creative rediscovery that has taken place during the pandemic.

Hear writer John Beck and artist Matthew Cornford talk more about the origins, process and impact of their project:

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Below is a selection of Beck and Cornford’s photographs.
All images courtesy of John Beck and Matthew Cornford

Heginbottom School of Art

Heginbottom School of Art, Ashton-under-Lyne

The Central Library and Art Gallery on Old Street, Ashton-under-Lyne, once housed the Heginbottom School of Art. Completed in 1893 by local architects John Eaton & Sons with the help of a £10,000 gift from local industrialist George Heginbottom.

The facade on Oldham Road features allegories of the arts and crafts in decorative medallions, a theme echoed in the painted window that lit the stairs to the art school.

Oldham Road, Ashton-under-Lyne
53°29’14.4″N 2°05’51.7″W
27 July 2018

Barrow-in-Furness School of Art

On 26 May 1900, Mrs Albert Vickers (Edith Foster), wife of the industrialist whose company built warships in Barrow shipyards, laid the foundation stone for Barrow Technical School.

The building, which included the School of Art, was officially opened in 1903. The Technical School closed in the 1950s and the building was threatened with demolition after suffering neglect for many years.

A £4m redevelopment in the early 2000s saved the building, which was renamed the Nan Tait Centre in honour of Labour Councillor and Mayor of the Borough (1959–60), Agnes ‘Nan’ Tait.

The building now provides a home for, among others, the Barrow Registry Office, Children’s Services and the arts organisation Art Gene.

Abbey Road, Barrow-in-Furness
54°06’54.9″N 3°13’46.9
8 July 2018

Chester School of Art

Chester School of Art

Housed in the Grosvenor Museum from when it was built in 1886, the School of Art initially remained autonomous after the creation of Chester College of Further Education in 1948, but finally became part of the College in 1956. The name Chester School of Art remained in use until it moved to the Blacon Arts Centre in 1986, where it became Blacon Art College.

The Centre, owned by West Cheshire College, remained open until 2001 when the Blacon Avenue site became home to the divisional headquarters of Chester Police.

Grosvenor Street, Chester
53°11’14.3″N 2°53’32.8″W
5 July 2018

Crewe School of Art

Crewe School of Art

Like many other nineteenth-century art schools, Crewe School of Art began as a Mechanics’ Institution. In 1897 the new Technical Institute and School of Art was opened on Hightown.

It became part of a new further education college on Dane Bank Avenue in 1966 and, after several name changes, became South Cheshire College in 1982. Following a £74m rebuild, a new campus opened in 2010 on the same site, now called Cheshire College – South and West.

The Hightown building has been converted for residential use.

Flag Lane, Crewe
53°05’55.0″N 2°26’55.1″W
9 October 2018

Lancaster College of Art

Lancaster College of Art

Built in 1887 by local philanthropist and tradesman Thomas Storey as a replacement for the Mechanics’ Institute, the Storey Institute was named after its founder in 1891.

The purpose of the building was ‘the promotion of art, science, literature, and technical instruction’ and was capacious enough to contain a reading room, library, lecture room, music room, laboratory, gallery and art school. From the 1950s to 1982 it was known as Lancaster College of Art.

The Storey, as the building is now called, describes itself as a combination of ‘hi-tech office space, creative hub, performing arts venue and contemporary eatery’.

Meeting House Lane and Castle Street, Lancaster
54°02’55.3″N 2°48’15.5″W
13 August 2017

Morecambe School of Art

Morecambe School of Art

Completed in 1912, Morecambe Art and Technical School on Poulton Road was commandeered by the military during the First World War.

In contrast to the more hard-headed art schools located in the industrial towns of the region, a 1921 inspection report explained that Morecambe, in addition to providing technical training, aimed to provide instruction for those ‘who seek to develop their artistic perception and ability for cultural or practical reasons’.

The building was temporary home for a grammar school until 1938, when it reverted to providing further education. It is now converted into flats.

Poulton Road, Morecambe
54°04’22.0″N 2°51’41.0″W
13 August 2017

Northwich School of Art

Northwich School of Art

The salt manufacturer Joseph Verdin built two technical schools, the first in Winsford and a second, completed in 1897, in Northwich.

Originally known as Verdin Technical School & Gymnasium, the Northwich building subsequently became Northwich School of Art, Cheshire School of Art and Design and, finally, the art department of Mid-Cheshire College.

From October 2012, London Road Collective occupied the building to demonstrate the potential of the site as an arts centre. Mid-Cheshire College sold the building to developers in June 2013 and it is now residential properties.

London Road, Northwich
53°15’08.5″N 2°30’46.5″W
3 October 2018

The Harris Institute School of Art

The Preston Institute for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge was founded in 1828. This became the Avenham Institute in 1853, leading to the formation of Preston School of Art in 1859.

Diversifying into science and language classes, the institution became the Harris Institute in 1882 after receiving financial support from the estate of the late Edmund Robert Harris.

A new Technical School was added in 1897 and extended in 1928. The institution became Harris College in 1956 and achieved polytechnic status in 1973. Preston Polytechnic is now the University of Central Lancashire, which sold off the School of Art building on Avenham Lane in 2007.

It is currently on the market again.

Avenham Lane, Preston
53°45’16.6″N 2°41’56.3″W
17 July 2018

Rochdale School of Art

Rochdale School of Art

Rochdale Technical School opened in 1893 and was extended in 1906 to include a School of Art.

In March 1969 fire ripped through the building and although it was able to re-open after a costly repair, art classes had already moved to a new, purpose-built facility on the corner of St Mary’s Gate and College Road, later the site of Hopwood Hall College.

The original building closed permanently in 1989 and was subsequently demolished. The terracotta frieze, depicting spinning and metal working, was preserved and is displayed in the car park where the building once stood.

Nelson Street, Rochdale
53°36’56.9″N 2°09’23.9″W
8 August 2017

Salford School of Art

The Royal Technical Institute, a merger of Salford Working Men’s College and Pendleton Mechanics’ Institute, opened in Peel Park in 1896.

In 1921 the Institute, which housed the art school, was renamed the Royal Technical College. Periods of reorganisation and numerous name changes followed.

The building became the Peel Building in 1967 and is currently home to the University of Salford’s School of Environment and Life Sciences. Many of the Peel Building’s lecture theatres, classrooms and meeting rooms, including the grand, 300-capacity Peel Hall, are available for hire.

Salford Western Gateway
53°29’06.8″N 2°16’23.0″W
9 August 2017

Your Space

Towards a more inclusive creative future

For much of the second half of the twentieth century following the 1962 Education Act, higher education was free for full-time, resident students. This made it possible for people from all walks of life to study at universities and art schools.

Over the last twenty years, however, with the introduction in 1998 tuition fees and their ongoing increase, access to art education and, by extension, to a career in the creative industries, has become far more exclusive. While people from lower socio-economic backgrounds make up 35% of the working population, recent research* has indicated that they represent only 12% of those working in film, TV, video, radio and photography; 13% in publishing; 18% in music, performing and visual arts; and 21% in museums, galleries and libraries. The lack of diverse voices within these realms ultimately narrows the forms that culture takes, limiting the issues and subjects it addresses and reducing its relevance to a broad section of society.

Over recent decades, in response to a variety of issues, including tuition fees, educational reforms, and funding cuts to adult education services that would previously have been provided through community centres, various forms of alternative education have emerged across the UK and internationally.

To try to offer new paths into creative careers, new models for art education have sprung up, and in this room we present just a few examples of these. The people involved have recognised and positively embraced the diverse cultural experiences and exchanges that help bring communities together. From the Islington Mill Art Academy, here in the North West, to the online platform of the Work Show Grow School, each provides food for thought – which is the very point of this ‘think-tank’ space.

Islington Mill Art Academy (IMAA), Salford, Greater Manchester

Founded in 2007 in response to rising higher education tuition fees, IMAA is a peer-led, free art school at Islington Mill artist studios. Welcoming anyone who wants to be an artist, students drive their own learning through workshops, residencies, coaching and projects, and become artists via self-discovery and experiential gain rather than formal assessment. Students meet weekly and are encouraged to ‘graduate’ when they feel ready.
For more information about Islington Mill Art Academy, click here

Open School East (OSE), Margate, Kent

A free, independent art school and community space that focuses on collective learning, OSE supports early career cultural practitioners to develop and sustain their practice. Young people and adults learn new and transferable skills, develop their confidence and shape their creative voice by being active learners in, and co-producers of, the School’s programmes. Originally founded in 2013 in Hackney, East London, the school moved to Margate in 2017.
For more information about Open School East, click here

Cultural Community College (CCC), Slung Low, Holbeck, Leeds

CCC started out as a programme providing opportunities outside of formal education and training and has grown into a community of members who decide, and sometimes lead, the programme. Since 2018 they’ve offered an array of courses for adults, from basic life-skills such as CPR to creative hobbies, including vegetarian cookery and pewter casting. Courses are priced on a  ‘pay what you decide’ basis and before being advertised to the general public they are offered exclusively to local residents.
For more information about Cultural Community College, click here

Work Show Grow School, Online

Having started as an online art education platform in 2018, Work Show Grow established itself two years later as a school to provide access to experts in the creative industries, through mentorship, workshops and critique sessions, alongside an online showcase of member’s work. The school offers a monthly, quarterly or annual subscription at a small fraction of university tuition fees. The school is led and founded by artist and educator Natasha Caruana.
For more information about Work Show Grow School, click here

Get involved!

For the duration of the ‘Harmony, Contrast & Discord’ exhibition, we are staging a free programme of workshops, classes, talks and discussions delivered online and in-person** by a range of makers and thinkers.

To find out more and/or to book a session, click here to view What’s On.