By Shona Macpherson
Open School East is a free year-long alternative art school which was set up in 2013 in response to rising tuition fees, and an art education system which perhaps wasn’t keeping up with the necessities of working as professional artist in this decade. The course is publicly funded by The Barbican, among other funding bodies, and provides free studio space, open work spaces for events and talks and also a ceramic studio run by Troy Town Pottery.
The original idea was to reactivate disused public space and to provide an environment where the associates(students) can engage with the surrounding area of De Beauvoir Town. This alternative art school is based on an ethos of ‘cooperation, collectivism, improvisation and self direction.’ Questions are constantly asked such as ‘how can we relate to a community?’, ‘how do we set up conversations?’, ‘what should an art education entail?’, ‘what is a community?’. The emphasis is on creating a public programme which engages the local community and also skill exchange between individuals.
New modes of education and alternative art schools are becoming ever more important currently where an arts masters in London would set you back about £8,000, without even considering the living, travel and materials costs associated with studying. Its making the possession of a masters degree from one of the top schools have more of a monetary value than anything else; almost like buying your way to being an artist. Meaning young, less privileged artists have less opportunity to integrate into the London art scene.
I spoke to Mathew Girardeau, who graduated last year from one of the alternative art schools Open School East, about his experiences.
Hi Mathew, what are you working on at the moment?
I run The Bad Vibes Club, which is a research project into morbid ethics. It’s in its second year in residence at Open School East, where we run a lecture programme and reading group, and we’ve started producing original research, with a talk we did at the ICA in December, and a long term research collaboration with the internet broadcasting group Field Broadcast.
I’m part of the ARKA group, which is a sculpture and film making collaboration with the artist Ben Jeans Houghton. I also run Radio Anti with the artist Ross Jardine, we just did a week of broadcasts from domestic spaces, and we’re going to produce a night of live radio for Bloc Projects in Sheffield in summer. And, I’m just finishing a podcast about luck, probability and chance, which is a commission for Rhubaba Gallery in Edinburgh.
Did your time at the alternative art school OSE change the way you work at all?
I think it helped develop the relationship between the two sides of work — the side of me that makes things like sculptures, performance and videos, and the side of me that works with connections between things, like events, or broadcasts or discussions. I’d made a conscious effort to return to the studio to make sculptures and drawings, and throughout my year at OSE, I think I found a way to manage my practice so that I could balance my need to work alone, with materials and my need to talk and work collaboratively.
What was the best part of your year at OSE?
Meeting all these brilliant artists who have become friends and collaborators. I share a studio with four former OSE Associates, Andrea Francke, Eva Rowson, Jonathan Hoskins and Ross Jardine. We’ve kept the spirit of OSE alive in our shared studio in Deptford with communal lunches, collective decision making and excessive drinking.
Also, I’m still working directly with Anna Colin and Laurence Taylor at Open School East to produce The Bad Vibes Club, and that project is going from strength to strength. We have a brilliant and diverse group of people that attends the reading group, people are keen to come and speak at the lecture programme, and we’re beginning to create original research that is produced from conversations and small collaborations within the group.
Do you think OSE is changing the way art education is viewed?
I think there’s a movement of alternative and complementary education practices which has shifted the discussion around art education into an interesting place. I don’t think there’s much wrong with the state funded education system apart from the lack of state funding, so I hope people don’t see places like OSE as a good way of offloading the work of universities on to third sector organisations. It’s good to have alternative ways of approaching knowledge, and OSE is one great example of this.