Changing the face of education: Open School East

20 May 2015

by ArtRabbit

Open School East is an anomaly when it comes to art education. Created in 2013, it is a free programme for emerging artists. It provides studio space, and facilitates public events and connections to other art practitioners. It opened in response to the skyrocketing cost of tuition and the burdens of student debt.

This new type of network and model is changing the notion of what education can be. ArtRabbit asked Open School East's Anna Colin & Laurence Taylor a few questions to discuss this radical new model.

Q: Can you discuss the ethos of Open School East and how it was developed?

We use four keywords to describe our ethos and how we would like to see the organisation develop: accessible, self-directed, experimental and responsive. We create a safe space in which all can be heard. We support individuals to take responsibility for their own learning and to work collaboratively. We continually reinvent our approach by exploring new modes of engagement and forms of inhabitation. This is a set of ideal principles, which we do our best to achieve.

Open School East started with an idea: a building in which artists could work, learn, and share experiences – and space – with others. Sarah McCroy, Sam Thorne and Laurence Taylor were the initial engineers. Anna Colin then joined and started working with Laurence on the development of this idea in late 2012. Open School East was always going to shape itself through its activation and use by artists and members of the public. We opened in autumn 2013 and the organisation has been developing ever since. With every new influx of artists, participants and users of the space come new ways of thinking, working and talking about what we do.

It’s important to state that Open School East is primarily a space; one in which two discrete yet entangled programmes are running – a study programme and a public programme. The former is open by application, regardless of qualifications, and is geared towards emerging artists. The latter is open to all, with an emphasis on the local area. Both engage creative learning, producing and sharing.

Anna and Laurence co-direct Open School East and have recently been joined by Mike Brooks as general manager. Sarah and Sam continue to be actively involved as trustees, alongside our fantastic board members.

Q: There seems to be a strong mentorship aspect of the programme, can you discuss how mentors are selected and how they are involved?

The mentors - Matthew Darbyshire, Kodwo Eshun and Anjalika Sagar of The Otolith Group, Janna Graham, John Douglas Millar, Olivia Plender and Marijke Steedman - were invited by the OSE team. They are artists, curators and theorists with whom we have had ongoing conversations about alternative ways of practicing, learning and supporting artists. It was important for us to work with mentors who are sensitive to Open School East’s ethos and it is exciting for the organisation to be affiliated with people whose work we very much respect.

We were also keen on bringing to Open School East a wide range of practices, positions and experiences in order to cater for an equally diverse group of associate artists. The mentorship programme was set up in year 2, so it’s only been running for four months. We’re currently in the process of evaluating it, and we will bring in a few adjustments based on feedback gathered from both the associates and the mentors.

In terms of their involvement to date, the mentors have presented their practices and discussed it with the associates, they have given them one-to-one tutorials at regular intervals and have been running group crits in one instance. They have recently started to explore with the associates other ways of supporting them by introducing new formats and bringing in guests.

Q: How do you think your model can be applied to the larger arts education system? What are the hurdles in maintaining the model you operate within?

We don’t think it can be applied to the larger arts education system for the simple reason that OSE can only fulfill its vision if it remains a small operation. The reasonable size of the team and of the organisation’s running costs allow us to retain a certain agility. OSE owes part of its success to its ability to make decisions collectively, self-reflect, adapt and promptly implement change. Not many organisations are able to run in this way, let alone large organisations.

Q: Many of your programs invite the public and local community to participate, can you tell us about an upcoming project or event?

We’ve been working with artist Neil Cummings on a project titled Open Cinema. We define it as a collective adventure in digital filmmaking: we research, find, make and share digital films. With a growing group of about 30 people, we meet every three weeks to learn skills from professional filmmakers, watch, make and edit films and start planning a two-day screening event which will take place in October. The group is constituted of people from all ages, backgrounds and levels of experience – some confirmed filmmakers and others who have not previously used a camera; neighbours, people who partake in other regular activities as much as people who’ve never been to OSE; artists, including some OSE associates, film students, etc.
Open Cinema explores the role of film in representing and reactivating places, with an emphasis on Hackney. We’ve already produced and gathered some incredible material, so look out for the October event, it should be quite an event!

Open School East, London

Open School East on the map