Open School East
Address: 43 De Beauvoir Road, London N1 5SQ
Contact: Anna Colin / Laurence Taylor
Open Hours: open when an event or activity is on (see website for details)
How is the project operated? For-profit, nonprofit, artist-run, etc.
Non-profit. Open School East is a charity.
How long has it been in existence?
Open School East launched in September 2013, after a year of research and planning.
What was your motivation?
We wanted to start a different type of study programme for London. We were responding to spiraling tuition fees and student debt, and a climate of increasing bureaucracy in arts education. We envisioned that this programme would be free to attend; it would be run according to principles of cooperation and, to some extent, of improvisation; and it would be partly self-directed. Its structure would be light, permeable, fast-moving and unburdened by competition and academic targets (in its quality as a non-accredited programme). OSE would provide emerging practitioners with space, time, tuition and interlocutors to reflect on their practice, work on projects and develop critical tools at a particular moment of their artistic and professional development (at MA level, though not restricted to BA and MA holders).
Crucially, the study programme would be situated – the immediate neighbourhood and its social fabric would act as a central backdrop to OSE’s thinking, programming and development. In view of our commitment to treat OSE as public – as opposed to an enclosed, navel-gazing study programme – we imagined it to be open to audiences in various ways. Accordingly, a significant proportion of the teaching element of the study programme would be made public and an affiliated platform for activities, events and commissioned projects directed at diverse constituencies would be shaped around what we call the communal space.
Our conception of Open School East as a catalyst for interaction with its surroundings made particular sense in the building we were about to move into: a library and community facility which had been gradually decommissioned as part of the widespread library closures. OSE was shaped with this context in mind and would work towards reactivating the former social and cultural function of the building, which is located on the edge of a large housing estate in De Beauvoir Town in East London.
Number of organizers/responsible persons of the project.
We have a part-time team of three people, composed of co-founders and co-directors Anna Colin and Laurence Taylor, and Basia Lewandowska Cummings, coordinator, who recently joined the team.
Open School East was also co-founded by Sarah McCrory and Sam Thorne, both of whom sit on OSE’s board.
How are programs funded?
The pilot year received joint funding from the Barbican and Create London. Additional funds were raised from a variety of sources, including public funding, donors, charities and individuals. Funding for next year is in the process of being secured.
Who is responsible for the programming?
Presently it is shared between the associate artists and the team.
Number and average duration of exhibitions/events per year.
Open School East doesn’t put on exhibitions. In the space of 8 months, we have held around 35 events and 40 activities.
What kind of events are usually organized?
Events include lectures, panel discussions, screenings, walks, gardening sessions, open studios, lunches and dinners, workshops (e.g. on radio-making, ceramics, speech, writing, body movement), art-making labs, music nights, performances and more.
How is your programming determined?
There has been a thin line between the teaching and public programme this year, in the sense that the teaching has tended to take the form of a rolling programme of presentations, talks and workshops. We wanted to make some of these non-exclusive to the associates, which has determined in some way their content and format. There have also been events sitting outside of the so-called ‘curriculum’, which are aimed at broader constituencies and are occasionally curated by external collaborators.
Since January, the associates have taken on an important part of the overall programming, whether by making some of the teaching they programme public, or by putting on events that relate to their current research. Additionally, there are activities such as workshops and associate-led projects, which revolve around different themes and forms of collective making. These often lead to public-facing events and presentations of outcomes (e.g. broadcasts, performances, or readings.).
Because of the variety of people involved, the public programme has been quite eclectic. However there have been a few themes running throughout the year, such as the meeting points between performance and politics; the (gendered, circulating, posing) body; sound and speech; and reflections on locality and history writing. Importantly, it has involved cultural practitioners and enthusiasts with diverse skills, practices, interests, experiences and backgrounds.
Do you accept proposals/submissions?
We consider proposals for events, activities and projects, and attempt to accommodate them if they relate to our mission and interests, and if we can find space for them.
What is your artistic/curatorial approach?
The approach we have been developing blends learning, public programming and commissioning, and puts art’s relationship to society and locality at the centre of its enquiry. We’re particularly invested in testing out and questioning what a study programme – that is open to artists who are socially minded, but, for the most, not socially engaged – can learn from and bring to a locality.
Through the communal space and affiliated programme of events, projects and activities, we aspire to build a community of interest and to foster social, cultural and intellectual exchanges between people from all walks of life. This exceeds the curatorial and often entails exiting art, but we believe in the enriching potential of connecting different constituencies, and of creating a space for the circulation and sharing of disparate ideas, positions, skills and knowledge.
What’s working? What’s not working?
This would be a good question to ask the associates. They have played a crucial role in helping us think through OSE, in consolidating its present and imagining its future. The feedback we collected from them after the first term already served to improve some aspects that were not working as well as they might, for example at an organisational level, as well as a programmatic one.
he teaching programme is one of the aspects that have been under review. Its density and eclecticism have been addressed, and the need for a more continuous element (for instance, a faculty to rely on) has also been raised. For next year, we’re aiming towards a more structured and professionalized curriculum, which will also be more autonomous from the public programme than it has been to date. There are clear benefits to this, but it also puts to risk the experimental, spontaneous and hybrid nature of OSE, which we all value. Finding the right balance between informality and achievement is a recurring dilemma and will require time and adjustment.
Another difficulty, and an equally interesting one for us to work through, concerns the reconciliation of our two main strands: one that is dedicated to supporting emerging practitioners in the best conditions possible; and another that aims to address the lack of opportunities for cultural and social engagement in our neighbourhood. Valuable cross-fertilization has taken place between the two objects of our mission, but a lot more remains to be done to arrive at a truly productive meeting point.
But, this said, a lot has been working. The associates have developed more confident and critical practices; they have produced thought-provoking projects as part of their time at OSE; the public programme has attracted a high number of people indeed from all walks of life; and the space has developed a genuinely convivial and communal feel thanks to the associates and the projects’ participants. The first seven months have been incredibly rich and intense; it has been a great learning curve for all of us.
What idea are you most excited about for the future?
We are in the process of securing funding for next year so the future at this stage is still uncertain. Being able to continue Open School East and to develop a sustainable model for it is the most exciting prospect. We have learnt a great deal during this pilot year and there is a lot we would like to build upon, as well as several ideas and forms we would like to test and implement in the medium- and long-term. Bringing the study programme closer to OSE’s public remit is one of the areas we are particularly committed to developing.