There were over 150 art schools in this country in the mid-1960s. Most of them are now closed or absorbed into other institutions and the buildings repurposed, remodelled or demolished. What did it mean to have an art school in every town and what can we learn by discovering their fate?
John Beck and Matthew Cornford are hunting down all of England’s art schools and photographing the sites as they are today. Sometimes the original building remains, sometimes car parks, supermarkets or building sites have taken their place. This exhibition features new images of 30 art school buildings that were once an integral aspect of creative life in the North West.
Importantly, the idea of ‘art school’, especially as it took shape during the 1950s and 1960s, was more than a place to study art; attendance came to represent a particular stance toward the world, an attitude most vividly embodied by Liverpool College of Art‘s most famous alumnus John Lennon. Arguably more than anyone else, Lennon made being an art student seem like an essential step on the road to the creative life, where the ordinary became extraordinary.
Celebrating and reflecting on the prominent place art schools have held in the region, the exhibition is an invitation to explore the value placed on education in the arts, to think about the legacy of the art schools and to consider what relation art should have to broader society now and in the future. Set against the backdrop of Bluecoat’s arts centre origins, when a group of students in 1907 started an independent arts school, the Sandon Studios Society, The Art Schools of North West England marks the wide and deep history of creative activity in the region and the institutions that made it possible.