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Students trade tuition for community activities at Open School East

Students engage with the community

Artists and academics have cautiously welcomed a pioneering new art school in east London, which has taken the unusual step of not charging tuition fees. Open School East, which launched last month, is housed in the Rose Lipman Library in Hackney, one of London’s poorer boroughs. Curators and artists lead 13 associate artists in workshops and seminars, and on-site workspaces are provided in return for participation in community activities. The school is due to run for one academic year and a fundraising campaign has begun to continue it for another year.

In lieu of paying fees, students donate one day a month for public activities in and around the building. From January, for instance, six associates hope to mentor six young people who have left school and want to study art but have not yet gone into higher education.

“Open School East was immediately appealing because it deliberately sets out to break the rules. It is an art school that is not an art school, because it has little or no institutional structure, no formal accreditation and few, if any, full-time staff,” says Angus Cameron, a lecturer at the University of Leicester.

“There have to be other models for an art-school experience that doesn’t leave students £30,000 in debt,” says the artist Dexter Dalwood, who is also a professor at Bath School of Art & Design. But he strikes a note of caution about the staff structure. “Although someone is successful within their field, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are a good teacher. Also, some great teachers aren’t necessarily recognised artists, so the balance within any course has to be addressed.”

Mick Finch, who leads the BA Fine Art course at Central Saint Martins, welcomes the initiative’s “far-reaching aims” and outreach programme, but warns that some alternative art schools have been limited because “most of them just seem to be workshops”.

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