Architecture is definitely one of my passions, with art deco leading the way, but with all interesting buildings setting off a fire in my belly. The New Walsall Art Gallery currently has a photographic exhibition looking at the art schools of the West Midlands, and, more specifically, the existing buildings that were home to this movement. Many of these beautiful examples of architecture are Victorian, often in the celebrated red brick style, although it has to be said that some have seen far better days. The modern day photographs are neatly juxtaposed with archive material from the schools, showing how this was a vibrant, interesting movement that was progressive in terms of cultural enrichment, and also in the way that they aligned the arts with the growing interest in science and technology.
Art School were important in the Midlands, with it’s glass and ceramics industries benefiting from them. John Beck and Matthew Cornford set themselves a task to identify all the art schools in the Midlands, some of which are still in operation, others, like the stunning Bilston building on Mount Pleasant, at risk due to abandonment and neglect. There were 37 art schools in the Midlands in total, but some no longer exist as the buildings have been repurposed, whilst others have been knocked down completely.
The areas of arts and culture have suffered in recent years, as our school curriculum and government funding moves away from these more creative areas in terms of funding and importance, and the art schools show there was once a different approach that was dynamic and yielded true results, particularly in areas like Stoke, which had six art schools, possibly due to the creativity of the Potteries as a centre of excellence in ceramics and design. Today, there are some notable survivors, like the Birmingham School of Art, but many more have fell by the wayside, which is a crying shame.
17 February – 2 July 2023
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