Frieze Blog Survey - Islington Mill Art Academy

Sam Thorne, 2 March 2009

Islington Mill Art Academy, Salford, UK is a free self-organised art school set up in 2007 by a group of art foundation students, dissatisfied with the quality of university fine art courses open to them

While researching ideas for Islington Mill Art Academy in 2007, we talked to many of the recent fine art graduates from universities in our area. Some spoke about how there had been an expectation throughout the three years of their course that graduation would signal a point of transformation, where their position would shift from ‘student’ to ‘professional artist’. Even a number of years after leaving university, many were still feeling that they needed to learn much more about how to turn their practice into a career. The professional development classes in university hadn’t made much sense under the protective wings of the institution. After university, many had found themselves drifting off completely or involved in artist led projects to create opportunities. These observations led us to some founding ideas for the group:

1. That Islington Mill Art Academy should base itself as much as possible, in the real world.
2.
Our learning and development should be ongoing and continual. There should be no point of accession from student to artist.
3.
That as part of this course we should gain an understanding of what it means to be an artist.

As administrators of our own art school and directors of our own educational process, we have found that a degree of competence is not only practical and useful but necessary. Contacting artists to arrange talks and critiques, organising residencies and research trips, paying for a studio space, finding materials/knowledge/skills to make art work are all things that we do regularly. Each of these tasks requires good communication skills, an amount of self-confidence, and a disciplined work ethic.

All of this probably contributes to our education and perhaps why we are given opportunities in the real world. We are not protected by an Institution and we have therefore to commit to a much wider scope of reality in order to sustain the Academy itself. Our deadlines and decisions requiring actions come thick and fast. With each one we are learning about the mechanics of the art world, and therefore maybe ultimately how to be ‘professional’ and how to be self sustaining, how to network and how to communicate who we are and what we do.

Since beginning the Academy, we have come across and in some cases worked with many ‘highly’ professional people. In some cases, artists, who have their business cards, portfolios and printed matter to hand, ready for the business of art. If this is what it means to be a ‘professional’ artist, then we do not necessarily see this as our goal. While we recognise that a basic aptitude for managing ones work is important and useful, the only artist worth striving to be is one that makes great art.