A new art school and studios for Hull city centre

A new art school and studios for the city of Hull has just opened its doors in a city centre location. It is perhaps appropriate that the new home for the Feral Art School was, until recently, the Co-operative Bank and is located right in the heart of the city’s regeneration zone.

Feral Art School works on co-operative principles and has developed wider partnerships in the city and beyond which have supported its growth and contributed to its thinking. An important early partner was the UK Co-operative College, which Feral Art School is working with to create a federation of co-operative education providers.

Alongside the development of activities local to the Hull city region, Feral Art School is building a credible and distinctive role within the national and international community of arts organisations and alternative arts education providers: these include the School of the Damned in the UK and the Reykjavik School of Visual Art in Iceland.

The Feral Art School model of art education is a response to the ongoing corporatisation and privatisation of art as a subject for Higher Education. State funding for undergraduate arts and humanities subjects is now deemed as a national non-priority and is being gradually removed. This means that studying art is becoming a privileged pastime and thereby excludes many would be artists from less privileged backgrounds: this perpetuates the myth that talent will bring success in the art world rather than background.

The co-operative way of learning puts the student at the heart of the learning experience. It is not based entirely on the student as consumer, of someone who has to achieve certain outcomes and who pays to jump through hoops. It is rather a collective and shared learning experience not just for the student but for all involved in the process and so thereby creates new knowledge, ideas and ways of understanding. In creating this collective learning culture FAS hopes to effect greater change, not just in art education, but in the wider artworld also: of mitigating the competitive mindset of the artworld that starts in Higher Education.

Supported by a small legacy grant from Hull 2017 UK City of Culture, ex-tutors from the Hull School of Art & Design and professional art practitioners in the city set up a Community Interest Company working to co-operative principles. This means that the courses are economically viable for Feral Art School and, importantly, for potential students.

Since 2018 the art school has been providing a mix of courses for all adults regardless of age, experience and ability wishing to undertake a co-operative way of learning. An expanded programme has been developed that offers students courses in printing, drawing, painting, textiles, fashion and photography.  These are all accessible and affordable opportunities for emerging artists to develop their practice and strengthen the cultural community in Hull. Importantly, these courses are economically self-sustaining and demonstrates the demand for this type of learning in the city.

The courses have been delivered in a variety of locations that includes a community centre, a specialist print studio and converted studio provision that Feral has either leased or uses on an in-kind basis. This has been a peripatetic undertaking that has been in what Jackie Goodman, founder member and director of Feral, calls the ‘feral’ spirit, of providing ‘meanwhile’ space for the learning experience.

This ‘feral’ spirit extends to the REVEALS that are opportunities for the students to display their course work in the format of a traditional exhibition. These are installed in empty retail units in the new Cultural Quarter for Hull through the kind support and partnership of Wykeland Group, and helps celebrate the successful collective learning undertaken.

The recent award of Arts Council England Project Funding and its ongoing partnership with Wykeland Group now means that Feral has a new home for the next few years – the afore mentioned ex-Co-operative Bank. This building is a base for eight subsidised studios for painters as well as a new learning space and a print studio to continue the already over-subscribed courses.

On the top floor of the building Hull Dance CIC are leasing a dance space. Feral have also just received National Lottery funding to build a fully wheelchair accessible toilet and wash room on the ground floor of the building. The studio holders will be able to occupy their studios for three to nine months and receive ongoing weekly tuition from the school’s professional artists as well as mentoring from invited painters from Feral’s expanding network of professional practitioners around the UK.

The paint studios will be a stepping stone for previous students who are intent on taking their painting practice further. To this end Feral Art School will be supporting the sourcing of independent studio space for their cohort of painters as well as providing the necessary and important access to national and international artists and organisations.

So here in Hull there is a beacon of hope in the national picture of ever diminishing arts education. Feral is removing the financial debt that potential artists must accrue to start their art career and then carry forward as artists. Feral Art School is part of a growing independent sector that rejects not only the financial and social implications of the ongoing privatisation of the HE sector but also how arts education is delivered: the art school represents new forms of self-organised mutual aid and community rebuilding. As Goodman states: ‘This venture is an example of the power of collaboration and cooperation between small organisations to enrich the arts provision in the city.’

New Feral courses are always available and very popular, so find out more about upcoming courses by visiting feralartschool.org