Against the grain of closure or decline elsewhere, Plymouth College of Art has invested £8m in new craft, design and manufacturing workshops. The development, which will be completed in two stages, places the college at the forefront of contemporary crafts practice in the UK.
Phase 1 – including new resources for glass and ceramics, as well as new painting, drawing and printmaking studios – opened in September. Phase 2 – including new resources and workshops for jewellery and textiles; a FabLab, 3D printer, rapid prototyper and laser cutting machine – will open in March 2014.
Plans for the new development began in 2011, when architects Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios were commissioned to design an ambitious and sustainable new master plan for Plymouth College of Art’s estates.
The project has been financed through a £2.5M grant from the Skills Funding Agency and a £5.2M from the college’s own pocket.
“In an environment of aggressive cuts we’re swimming against the tide,” principal, Andrew Brewerton told the PRSD.
This huge investment comes at a time when many education facilities are taking the decision to de-invest in craft facilities, with a number of colleges across the country closing their craft-related courses.
Staff and students have responded positively to the new developments.
John Grayson, who leads the BA Contemporary Craft’s programme, said: “It’s nice to have brand new buildings and there is some nice new kit, although the course is well resourced already. It’s great to be working in an environment where the facilities are being expanded and not reduced, which in a national context of craft cutbacks is exciting.”
Stephen Felmingham, leading the new Painting, Drawing & Printmaking course, said that the new developments make a bold statement about the college’s stance on the future of contemporary craft-making.
“It’s an historical fact that there has been (theoretically speaking) a dematerialisation of the art object. We don’t make things anymore; we think and then we choose our medium afterwards – it’s a concept-led approach. It’s a turn which happened around 30 years ago and we’re still finding ripples moving through art education.
“The college is saying ‘No. We don’t believe that this is where contemporary art is going’. What we’re going to do is make the ‘thinking hand’ absolutely contemporary.”
Loraine Evans, head of Learning Resource Environment, says that key to the development was the opportunity to create a shop window into the college for the public.
“We have designed a building that will open ourselves up to Plymouth. That’s why we have a big glass frontage,” she said.
“The great thing is that Charles Street, where the new studios are based, is a busy thoroughfare. People will be able to see students making glass and jewellery and may be encouraged to try something themselves.”
(from a press release)