Cultural and creative industries are the fastest growing in the UK, driving economic growth and on track to create one million new jobs by 2030. With widespread automation on the horizon, employment within the sector is also deemed one of the few areas at low risk of being replaced by robotic technology. Beyond the realms of capitalism, nurturing creativity from a young age is shown to boost confidence and wellbeing, improve critical thinking and problems solving skills, and even lead to more open and democratic societies.
And yet, it’s no secret that creativity is being systematically pushed out of the UK’s education system. Over the last few years, government emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects combined with cuts to funding has led to a sharp decline in the provision for art, music, drama and other creative disciplines in state secondary schools, and led to fewer students – especially from disadvantaged backgrounds – opting to study them at A-Level. The massive hike in tuition fees has also led to a fall in the number of people applying to take art and design related courses at university, instead choosing ‘safer’ degrees with more tangible future career options.
As a new exhibition at Bluecoat in Liverpool will highlight, however, it was not so long ago that the opposite was the case. During the mid-1960s there were over 150 art schools across the country; now most of them are closed or absorbed into other institutions and the buildings repurposed, remodelled or demolished. In response, artists John Beck and Matthew Cornford have set out on a project to hunt down all of England’s lost art schools and photograph the sites as they are today, revealing the shift that has taken place. The Art Schools of North West England will bring together a selection of photographs and texts documenting 30 historic sites of art education within the region, asking: What did it mean to have an art school in every town and what can we learn by discovering their fate?
The exhibition will also explore the very idea of ‘art school’ – a concept that has evolved throughout the 20th and 21st century from the legacy of the Bauhaus and Black Mountain College to the grassroots models of ‘alternative art education’ that have been noticeably growing in number over the last decade. Presented within the context of Bluecoat, which began life over 300 years ago as a charitable children’s school before becoming an independent art school setup by the Sandon Studios Society in 1907, The Art Schools of North West England should offer a fascinating window into the history of creative education within the region. Moreover, expect a poignant account of the need to fight for art – a basic human right in the view of artist and education advocate Bob and Roberta Smith (Patrick Brill).
‘The Art Schools of North West England’ will be accompanied by a symposium, ‘What Was Art School’, on 19 Jan (1-4pm, £3) and forms part of a interlinked series of exhibitions focusing on the changing nature of artistic education, including: ‘Instituting Care: Jade Montserrat‘ and ‘Joshua Henderson and Veronica Watson: Studio Me‘.