During a Fine Art tutorial at the Cass on 15 October, nine men in suits entered our studio space with a university security guard. They were armed with clipboards and smugness, as they made note of dimensions and discussed the “commercial returns of investing in the location”. Students had not yet been informed of plans to sell the building.
Within the hour, all of the students at the Cass were told of the university’s plans to sell the art school’s premises, and that the Cass would relocate to Holloway Road in 2017 within a new building that was yet to be constructed. Our tutors explained that they had only received the news a few hours prior to us.
“I chose the Cass for its wonderful east London location”
My name is Grace – I’m a 22-year-old Fine Art BA student, currently in my second year at the Cass.
After completing an art and design foundation diploma at the University of Ulster, I chose to move from Belfast to the “Aldgate Bauhaus” to immerse myself in a collaborative, creative environment, embodied by its sense of place for the past 150 years.
Every day I visit the Central House building and see Rachel Whiteread’s ‘Tree of Life’, which covers the façade – inspiring, accessible public art, symbolic of the building’s art and craft narrative. The Cass’ wonderful east London location also means it is near a plethora of artist studios, contemporary galleries and art non-profits.
Now, the Cass campus’ Commercial Road, Metropolitan Works and Central House are being sold – staff are losing jobs, important degree courses are being closed, and therefore opportunities to study are being reduced.
“Decisions have been made by people disconnected from students and staff”
This includes BA Animation, Musical Instruments and Product Design, and MA Furniture, Jewellery, Illustration and Interior Design, and others that have not been deemed financially viable or “on trend” enough.
Tutors and students have not made these decisions: the vice-chancellor and a board of governors – who are completely disconnected from students, staff and the day-to-day running of courses – have made them.
The decision to sell the buildings dramatically affects us and will continue to affect next year’s intake. It has been extremely disruptive during my classes and lectures – refurbishment works such as drilling and hammering interrupt us, as do potential buyers looking around.
Next year there will be less workshop and studio space. This is where ideas are realised. Having space is crucial to the degree show of all Cass students. This will limit creativity and the skills we need to develop as artists and designers.
“Closing courses will reduce the arts to a luxury”
Students need to have access to equipment that will enable them to problem-solve within a professional context. For a Graphic Design or Illustration student to make work through digital media, it is vital they have training in letterpress and printmaking – so that they can understand the basics of their discipline and engage with the digital equivalent in a more analytical and experienced way.
Closing courses will also mean there will no longer be government funding for such courses and students who want to learn these techniques will be unable to access them – making it a bourgeois pursuit, and reducing the arts to a luxury. The UK will be a creatively poorer place without the Cass’s Musical Instruments making degree, for example.
These decisions have been made despite the open letter in the Observer urging the university to re-evaluate their impact, signed by Nicholas Serota of The Tate, Deyan Sudjic of the Design Museum, John Kampfner of the Creative Industries Federation, and many more.
“I urge them to reconsider their decision”
Selling the campus will mean the loss of creativity, value and heritage of the East End. I urge the university’s bureaucrats to show how it values its students and their potential as ambassadors for its future. I urge them to reconsider their decision, and recognise the arts and its ability to create leaders and innovators.
I can’t second-guess all of the detrimental implications the reduction of staff, courses and facilities will have – but what I can say is that it will only have a negative effect on creating.
Statement from LMU about the future of the Cass
“In October, we announced our plans to invest £125 milion to create a new campus in Islington to bring all of our four faculties together in one location. This includes creating a new home for the Cass, complete with the studios and workshops it requires to ensure its teaching philosophy and ‘making’ ethos continues to thrive.
“We’re excited about the amazing opportunities this project offers the Cass, from designing its new learning environment to new engagement opportunities with Islington’s creative communities.
“Cass students will also have more opportunities to collaborate and build relationships with other disciplines relevant to their studies and future careers, as well as having access to social facilities and entertainment venues on a modern and vibrant campus.
“The University has been very clear that all students will have access to the facilities they need during their studies.
“The Cass is globally respected for running projects across London and around the world, and we believe that reputation will endure wherever the faculty is based.”