“At a time when so many art colleges in this country are now increasingly out of reach for most, Cannon Hill Art School will remind us of the reasons why art school practice today should be open to all.”
Peter Jenkinson OBE (Chancellor, Cannon Hill Art School)
On the 12 May 2015, seventy-two people became art students at Cannon Hill Art School. The twelve week course they had enrolled on (available for £50.00 or free with a bursary), a project by Trevor Pitt with mac birmingham, focussed on the value of art school and the opportunities for fostering development of new practices through the structures of art education. This project moved the focus from previous works that Pitt had developed with mac birmingham: ‘Anti Curate’ in 2011 and ‘The Open Project’ in 2013. As there are to be no reruns or second terms Cannon Hill Art School’s identity as a project was amplified, thus stressing the project’s life as a live work and a place for focussed encounter in which Pitt has brought an ambitious sense of what an art school should do best: inquiring, being open and looking outwards.
If you were to draw a road map of the art school journey, its commencement should communicate the palpable mixture of excitement and the destabilising sense of the unknown that is present in the lecture theatre on the first day of term. At this point the destination, the end of year show, is an abstraction (you never start something by picturing its conclusion). Framing the shift students undertook from initial development to realisation of ideas were three key lectures. Peter Jenkinson explored one hundred years of art education, charting a journey from the civic to the experimental; Cornelia Parker articulated the ingenuity and constant exploration present in her work and; Gavin Wade and Katrin Böhm discussed the ways in which exhibitions and networks can be articulated as forms within themselves. These lectures engendered a sense of curiosity and a willingness for students to let work breathe and engage with new encounters.
Integral for the evolution of students’ work has been the focus and support brought through tutorials and seminars with the school’s staff. Students developed their final exhibition ideas through negotiation with tutors: Phil Duckworth, Andrew Jackson, Ben Sadler, Marlene Smith, Emily Warner and Olivia Winteringham all of whom are artists based in the region with national and international profiles. The placement of tutors who have a direct part in the arts ecology of the city brought its own connectivity as students picked up on opportunities to visit exhibitions across the city from Ikon Gallery to the bricolage of events at Digbeth First Friday. Their sense of curiosity was joyful to encounter.
In the Cannon Hill Art School Summer Show the works hung gave expression to the students’ development. The design and installation of the exhibition by Juneau Projects (Duckworth and Sadler), expanded Keith Dodds’ graphic identity for Cannon Hill Art School into three dimensions. The exhibition mirrored the art school journey; your arrival greeted by three video screens relaying the key lectures by Peter Jenkinson, Cornelia Parker, and Gavin Wade and Katrin Böhm, and a library of books on art published in the twenty-first century which Pitt invited as donations from Ikon Gallery, Eastside Projects, New Art Gallery Walsall, Article Press and individual curators and artists. As you pass through into the main exhibition, thematics emerge in the way students have explored intersections of personal and social identities, the fragility of the natural world, the ways that place/location can be framed through experience and memory. The works in the exhibition are richer through focussed discussion and negotiation, taking on a greater independence as their approaches are questioned, dismantled and then are borne newer and fresher. Materials and idea manifest as final works, pieces and processes that have been pondered over, thought through and hard won. For the students, Cannon Hill Art School Summer Show is the beginning of everything, a celebration of their creative endeavours. The end of year show is the students’ thumbprint, their DNA. This Summer Exhibition is the point of transformation in which students’ ideas take flight outside the institution. For students at Cannon Hill Art School what happens next is the process in which you translate the experiences and connections that are created at art school into networks, art works and projects. The final show is a signal that new works, new ideas are ready to take shape and space in the world.