Art School remembered

I recently complained that parliamentary candidates rarely mention the arts in their manifestos. This was somewhat redressed recently when I attended a seminar organised by our local MP.

This featured the launch of the new Arts Council strategy. To me, it seemed much the same as the old strategy in that it stressed that art was for all and everybody deserves a chance to explore their own creative potential. All the art I have produced over the years has had that premise in mind, so it was nothing new to me. But good to have it laid out in black and white as a definite ongoing policy.

Also included was a very jolly film showing the strategy in action. A veritable rainbow nation creating away like billy-oh, drumming, painting, dancing and generally being artistic. A paean of diversity. It’s going to be great. And why not, thought I, start with the here and now? Looking round at the hundreds of delegates representing every possible arts organisation in the city and beyond, one couldn’t help noticing they were 99% white.

For me the venue was the star. The new Bath Spa University Arts Faculty Locksbrook Campus is wondrous to behold. Like the Lidl building across the river, this is a rare thing in our heritage obsessed city: a listed modern building. Both structures were former furniture factories developed by the remarkably forward looking Herman Miller Company. Both now have a new lease of life.

The facilities in this huge building with its distinctive modular panels (with a wry nod to Bath stone in their cream colouring) are fabulous. Included within the exterior skin are technical workshops, flexible studios, a spectacular open social space, a bookshop and a truly inspirational ambiance for budding artists and designers.

So unlike my dear Wimbledon School of Arts in the 1960’s. The theatre design department where I spent my formative years was housed in two crumbling Edwardian houses. One, with its creaking floorboards and leaky loo contained what we laughably referred to as design studios but which were just old bedrooms fitted with desks and Anglepoise lamps. Opposite, the second mansion contained the costume department, fiercely guarded by the sewing tutor’s Pekinese dog.

This also housed the hat making studio where you may recall we wicked students nearly asphyxiated our hated millinery tutor by locking her in the room with a hat steamer filled with eau de cologne!

The ‘facility’ I really loathed was the glue boiling room where we learnt how stick one thing to another.  That room stank, the sink being permanently blocked with the glutinous remains of failed experiments. Here we also studied a process known as ‘breaking down’: I remember a particularly glamorous student shuffling round for a whole day sporting a huge pair of miner’s boots covered in glue in order to attract a patina of age.

I think if I attempted to enter the glossy new arts campus in a pair of sticky boots, the security guys would be down on me in an instant!

First published in Bath Chronicle as Ralph Oswick’s Weekly Column

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