ALTERNATIVE (ART) SCHOOLS & NETWORKS
Overview of alternative art schools, free schools, projects, support networks and vanguards of the alternative education movement. Originally compiled as part of a collaborative research project by ART&CRITIQUE, with contributions from Laura Hudson, Katie Tysoe and Johanna Kwiat. This is a ongoing research project and the page will be updated regularly. Please get in touch if you are associated with a school, project or network that is not on this list, or if you want to amend or expand the entry.
Alternative Art College
The Alternative Art College was set up by Paul Stewart to question UK higher education. It is a protest against fees and employability. Nomadic and sporadic, the school aims to experiment with education and create spaces of collaboration and negotiation. It has existed as a three-month school, one day events and as Skype and Slack pages. It is a peer network that forms when necessary, otherwise it lays dormant as a resource and archive. The school regards contemporary art as an efficient means of resistance, interruption and deconstruction of global capitalism.
Alternative Art School Fair
Organised by Pioneer Works, a non-profit cultural centre dedicated to experimentation, education and production across disciplines, through a broad range of educational programs, performances, residencies and exhibitions.
Alternative ‘Master of Fine Art’ course established by artists for artists as a free alternative to studying a university-based MA in London. AltMFA incorporates the most desirable elements of an MFA course: space to work, collaborators to argue with, and a social sphere to move within. “We squeeze into any space and adapt it to our ends.” Unlike a conventional MFA, AltMFA is a common space in which there are no fees and time and facilities are all offered in kind. Meet weekly Monday nights 6.30pm -9.30pm. Programme takes place in a range of private and public venues. AltMFA is self-selecting; the only criteria for membership is attendance and the contribution of time and energy.
The Anti-University of London was a short-lived experiment in self-organised education and communal living at 49 Rivington Street in Shoreditch.
2015 London / UK
Antiuniversity Now is a collaborative experiment to challenge institutionalised education, access to learning and the mechanism of knowledge creation and distribution. Antiuniversity Now was set up to reignite the 1968 Antiuniversity of London with the intention to challenge academic and class hierarchy and the exclusivity of the £9K-a-year-degree by inviting people to organise and share learning events in public spaces all over the country. Antiuniversity Now events are free, accessible and inclusive and are delivered using non-hierarchical, participatory and democratic pedagogy. The Antiuniversity is firmly rooted in a collective desire to create and sustain safe autonomous spaces for radical learning that follow, nurture and enact anarchist, feminist, anti-racist, anti-fascist, anti-homophobic, de-colonial and anti-capitalist values through conversation and direct action.
A peer-led alternative art education network dedicated to critical engagement with art practice, theory and research. ART&CRITIQUE employed collaborative, co-operative and collective models of pedagogy and organisation and fostered alternative models of art education in a series of public events and research projects.
Autonomous School Zurich
A grassroots project run by locals and immigrants offering diverse educational and cultural activities for everyone including undocumented refugees, the socially excluded and all other interested people. This school is a project to fight against racism and injustice. It is also a meeting point, where people of different origins get to know each other. “Autonomous” is being independent and also self organized. The school moves forward with the collective work and genuine understanding from the students and teachers. All teachers are students too. All students are teachers also. Everybody plays a very important role in the school. There is no boss in ASZ. Everybody works freely and voluntarily. This school is not a government project. It gets no help and financial assistance from the government. Sometimes it gets help, financial assistance and class materials from kind, good spirited individuals and organizations. There is a plenary assembly every 2 to 4 weeks. There are various working groups carrying out different tasks in the school. Personal ideas can be realized in ASZ. Own ideas are also welcome to move the school forward.
2014 New York
BFAMFAPhD makes art and creates reports and pedagogical tools to advocate for cultural equity in the United States. BFAMFAPhD is a collective of artists, designers, technologists, organisers and educators who work in the intersection of art, technology and political economy. They bring people together to analyse and reimagine power relationships in the arts. Of Supply Chains is a free resource for educators that investigates the life-cycle of projects: how materials are sourced, how labor is organized, how the artwork is encountered etc. Concerned about the impact of debt, rent, and precarity on the lives of creative people, BFAMFAPhD asks: What is a work of art in the age of $120,000 art degrees? BFAMFAPhD core members are Susan Jahoda, Emilio Martinez Poppe, Agnes Szanyi, Vicky Virgin, and Caroline Woolard. They invite contributions.
Black Mountain College
1933-1957 North Carolina
2009-2017 New York
BHQFU was New York’s freest art school, a learning experiment where artists worked together to manifest creative, productive, resistant, useless, and demanding interactions between art and the world. A 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, BHQFU offered completely tuition-free courses on a variety of subjects during fall and spring semesters, hosted public programs and exhibitions year-round, and operated cost-free artist studio residency programs.
Cátedra Arte de Conducta
Center for Art Analysis
Conditions is a one-year studio programme for 12 artists each year. It will give 24/7 access to studio space and structured critical conversations to develop each artist’s work, as well as encouraging collaboration and collective work on exhibitions and events. Conditions will offer participating artists a programme of talks, teaching and workshops from a wide range of Associates comprising artists, writers, musicians, performers, curators and educators. It is aimed at addressing the increasing cost of both studio space and education for artists in London, by providing an alternative model. Conditions will examine art education and art production and think toward new conditions. The programme is focused around a number of loose themes. The cost is £230 per month for 12 months = £2760 per person for the year. Conditions is co-founded by artist and educator Matthew Noel-Tod and artist David Panos. It is led by Matthew Noel-Tod, whose work in art education includes previously running the Moving Image degree at University of Brighton.
2005-2014 New York / International
An experiment in collective autodidacticism that began in 2005 as a series of seminars with Brian Holmes and the 16 Beaver Group in New York, inquiring into geopolitical change and its local consequences.
Copenhagen Free University (CFU)
A self-organised institution for research and knowledge sharing established in 2001 by artists Jacob Jakobsen and Henriette Heise in their Copenhagen apartment. The CFU was a protest against artists’ self-definition as accomplices to power in the prevailing conditions of neo-liberalism, a reaction against the commodification of knowledge and the corporate appropriation of education. The Copenhagen Free University made it clear that universities do not necessarily have to reflect the hegemonic structures of society; universities could be organised and based in and around the everyday knowledge and material struggles structuring people’s lives… Knowledge for us is always situated and interwoven with desire. The institution was dedicated to the production of critical consciousness and poetic language until 2007 when it ceased its activities.
DIY Art School
DIY Art School Manchester is “a survival tactic” by Manchester Metropolitan University graduates. The school provides a support network for recent graduates. A platform for recent graduates and emerging artists to critique and develop their work. Its framework is in a constant state of flux depending on what graduates need and want from the network.
2007 London / UK
An informal, supportive peer critique network for artists in London, UK and beyond. Set up by Elizabeth Murton after graduating from Goldsmiths to continue the conversations, atmosphere and support to foster an informal, supportive peer critique network for artists in London, UK and beyond. Chaired to a style and philosophy which is informal and stimulating. Keeping the groups small, constructive conversation is encouraged. Emphasis is placed on peer feedback in response to the artist’s own questions and concerns. The format can be arranged to suit location, artists and budget. Open to all artists, at any stage of their career.
Essential School Of Painting
The Essential School of Painting is based in Bethnal Green and specialises in painting and drawing classes taught by leading contemporary artists.
Evening Class is a self-organised design education experiment, consisting of 20 participants from various cultural and educational backgrounds. It is a flexible environment where participants can cultivate common interests, develop their research and collectively shape the class’s agenda. Evening Class takes place twice per week. Thursday evening talks and readings are free and open to all to attend. Evening Class is a self-supporting group. The expenses are decided collectively and fluctuate in accordance with the group’s needs. At the moment they amount to £30 a month each. If our intention was to challenge the selection processes of conventional education structures, then we should begin with the (non-)admissions procedure. Unfortunately it is not possible to continue this method indefinitely, so we are not currently accepting new members. We are trying to think of other ways to make our programme available to more people.
Feminist Autonomous Centre for Research (FAC Research)
is a space for learning, reflection, collaboration, support, exchange, knowledge production, political interventions, and trouble-making. Working across and against nation-state and continental borders, disciplinary boundaries, and institutional barriers, FAC returns to the feminist roots of autonomous knowledge production, challenging what counts as legitimate knowledge and who is granted the right to produce and receive it. Our feminisms are queer, trans, intersectional, antiracist, anti-authoritarian, always in plural, reflexive, and internally contested. Research areas: Intersectionality, Critiques of Power & Coalitional Politics; Mobility, Migrations & Borders; Art as Research, Visual, Performative & Documentary Knowledges; Sexualities & Genders, Queer Trans Feminist Perspectives.
Feral Art School
A co-operative art school of professional artists and educators who encourage experimentation and collaboration. Feral Art School is takes place across the city in a range of venues. They invite students from all walks of life who have a curiosity for engaging with and making art work, regardless of previous experience and skills. Their courses progress from general introductory level to more advanced levels.
Free University London
Free degree-level humanities courses, lectures, talks, film screenings discussion and debate in politics, philosophy and social sciences. The tutors are university lecturers who teach subjects they are passionate about. Welcome those who haven’t been and are not currently part of other formal educational institutions. Based at DIY Space for London.
Independent Art School
Founded by Pippa Koszerek when she was a student, the school became a curatorial project after she and fellow course mates created The New Hull Art School as a protest against the course structure of fine art degrees. Championing a free and progressive approach to education, they set up talks, crits, performances and presentations.
Islington Mill Art Academy (IMAA)
Islington Mill Art Academy was founded by a group of local art foundation students who believe that a traditional BA does not prepare students for life beyond education. It is a peer-led experiment into alternative modes of art education, tailored to meet the needs of artists striving to develop their creative practice alongside full-time day jobs. Founded in 2007, IMAA emphasises shared responsibility. A forerunner in the alternative art schools movement, it was set up in response to student fees and the debate around the relevance and usefulness of mainstream art education. The Mill’s ethos is based around an openness to try new things. It is a place to experiment and inquire; to translate arts education into something viable and meaningful in the real world. IMAA gives artists an opportunity to take control of their own learning through facilitation, practice and experimentation. Open to anyone who would like to be an artist and who is interested in taking responsibility for, and direction of, the way in which they intend to do this.
Juggernauts Artists’ Peer Mentoring
Juggernauts Artists’ Peer Mentoring came out of an ArtQuest peer mentoring session at the ICA. The group meets at the Royal Festival Hall every month. The name Juggernauts is a reference to how difficult it is to steer through the art world.
London Free School
London Free School of Critical Feminisms
A week-long course that sees 16 students come together in an intimate and supportive community of peers to explore questions of feminist theory outside the imperatives of institutionalised academia. The School does not charge fees, with the aim of removing the economic barriers that often accompany events of this nature – barriers that affect women, queer and trans people of colour in particular. It is supported by the SOAS Centre for Gender Studies, with a contribution of £750. This money goes towards paying for lunches, printing posters, and paying for speakers who are in precarious employment circumstances. However, the Free School is completely autonomous; it is jointly organised by Jana Cattien and Rowan Powell, neither of whom are doing it in any institutional capacity. The organisers of this year’s Free School were participants in last year’s Free School. Likewise, the application panel for this year’s round will be made up of participants from last year’s round and so on, in order to build a network for free feminist education.
2003 Los Angeles
2006 Cyprus (cancelled)
MFA no MFA
Artists of the incoming class of MFA students at USC Roski School of Art and Design, who in the fall of 2014 dropped out in protest against student debt.
Founded by artists, Piero Golia and Eric Wesley to create an educational community providing free instruction for an expansive field of inquiry. MSA^ considers itself a supplement and amendment to the university system. It is the oldest, continuous artist-run school in California offering an independent program with a serious and obligated faculty in a series of guest lectures on philosophy, art history, science and general studies. The school is open each year to selected students from all over the world. There are no fees for enrolling or for attending classes. The school runs from January to April in the upstairs room of a bar.
The Network 11 is a peer group of artists who are grappling with contemporary art practice. Taking their cue from the Pan African Connection and the BLK Art Group in the 1970s/80s, they came together as a new generation of professionals that will reignite relevant discussions brought about by older generations and raise new questions about the position of British-based artists of colour and LGBT communities. Recipient of the first Cubitt Peer Forum from November 2015 to May 2016.
New Independent Art School
New World Academy
2012 Leiden / Utrecht
Nomad Art School
2015 London / UK
Nomad Art School is an open, permanent, free, and itinerant Art School, where artists offer their knowledge, in person or virtually: no syllabus, no selection, no accreditation. The school is itinerant because it uses places and spaces available free to the community for the common good, permanent because, whenever possible, it aims to broadcast and maintain a record of all its events. Consequently, there is no certificate at the end of the course, because it is not a course, and so never ends. There is no syllabus, because content is offered by artists willing and able to provide it. There is no selection, because all one needs to do to be a student is turn up, and participate in lessons.
Open School East (OSE)
2013 East London / 2017 Margate
Open School East (OSE) creates an environment for artistic learning that is free, collaborative and brings together diverse voices. We do this by providing tuition and studio space to emerging artists, and by producing and hosting cultural events, social activities and projects for and with everyone. Initial backing £110,000 from the Barbican and Create London.
2008 New York / International
OurGoods is a resource sharing network to enable creative people help each other produce independent projects. Members trade skills, spaces and objects to get their work done without money. More work gets done in networks of shared respect and shared resources than in competitive isolation. OurGoods cultivates resource sharing through events, a Facebook group, a newsletter and partnerships with existing organizations. Emerging with the rise of so-called sharing platforms, OurGoods challenged them to share power and resources with their members. Proprietary, for profit organizations cannot constitute a “sharing economy.” Rather theirs is a “renting economy,” where an information commons has been enclosed. They support projects such as the Good Work Code and conferences and publications such as Platform Cooperativism that continue this conversation. If you would like to speak with them about OurGoods, hosting a live resource sharing event, the future of resource sharing, or the best way to build an online network, please contact them.
Peer Sessions is a nomadic crit group providing a forum for the discussion of contemporary art. Monthly meetings aim to offer constructive feedback to practicing artists and engage with current concerns in art and culture. In addition to monthly crits, Peer Sessions organise projects focussed on facilitating and supporting artistic collaboration. Founded in 2009 by Kate Pickering and Charlotte Warne Thomas after graduating from Goldsmiths MFA. “From its beginnings as a monthly get-together for artist-led peer support, Peer Sessions’ remit has expanded to include residencies, exhibitions, educational and collaborative workshops for artists, and public education workshops on engaging in contemporary art”. Peer Sessions meetings are held monthly at 7pm on a weekday evening. In each session two artists present recent work for feedback. Any practising artist can join.
A collaboration between @.ac and Levenshulme Contemporary Art Centre (LCAC). “@.ac is dedicated to the salvation of the art school and, if not its salvation, its eradication and replacement as social form”. The school is defined as “a formless monstrosity… an entirely autonomous, democratic, non-heirarchical, rhizomatic, arts collective without any permanent members”. LCAC is a Manchester-based collective of artists and thinkers interested in the politics of social space. They transform marginal, abandoned and contested sites around the city into arenas of critical discussion and reflection.
Public School, The
2007 Los Angeles
A school with no curriculum. It is not accredited, it does not give out degrees, and it has no affiliation with the public school system. It is a framework that supports autodidactic activities, operating under the assumption that everything is in everything.
2008 London / UK
Organises open-submission group crits that are open to the public. Q-Art is an art education research, publishing, and events organisation, which aims to break down the barriers to further and higher level art education and contemporary art.
Radical Education Forum
A group of people working in a wide range of educational settings who meet monthly to discuss radical pedagogical theories and techniques, and contemporary issues of interest to those involved in education. They are interested in how these theories and questions can inform their practice. The Forum supports social justice in education, linking practitioners within mainstream educational institutions, community education initiatives, social movements, arts organisations and self-organised groups. Meetings are held on the last Monday of every month at the Common House from 7-9pm and are open to all.
School of Machines, Making & Make Believe
“…keen on inventing one-of-a-kind hands-on learning experiences in the areas of art, technology, design, and human connection. We embrace art, creativity and exploring the latest technology and ourselves with openness and curiosity.”
School of the Alternative
2016 Black Mountain
An experiment in education and community. Aims to provide a passion-driven model of education that encourages greater possibilities for thought, creation and collective action. Instead of a traditional classroom environment, their campus supports a collectively built, self-directed approach to learning, which gives opportunity for all participants to learn and teach. Summer sessions are currently held on the original campus of Black Mountain College, originally called Black Mountain School.
School of The Damned (SOTD)
2014 London / UK
A free, artist-led postgraduate art course run by and for its students. It was founded as a reaction to the increasing financialisation of higher education, by its first year of students (Class of 2014). The school is constantly redefined by the motives of its students. It is decentralised and seeks to include and unify artists across the UK and is committed to running crits and events outside London, making use of students’ networks. The group meets once a month for the core programme, which consists of presentations from guest visitors, crits and a business meeting. Each year re-writes the manifesto written by the previous year, each year’s manifesto is published on the website. By the end of the year, students in the school have been administrators, promoters, assessors and the passers-on of their experiences and contacts to the following year, taking on every role it takes to run a school. The students also organise and collaborate on other projects, exhibitions, meetings, talks, interviews, workshops, which all form part of the programme of study. The student body selects two or three guests to attend the monthly critique sessions. Guests are remunerated for their time through the School’s Labour Exchange Programme. Each year group is selected by the previous year group through an open call. The next open call will be in December 2017 and the year will begin in February 2018.
Self-Organized Seminar (SOS)
2011-2013 Iowa, USA
A collective of graduate art students who engaged in “autonomous learning” and institutional critique within and beyond the university. They worked collectively to problematise the professionalization of their art degree, labor and atomization in the neoliberal university. SOS was a reading group and a research project, organising events on the relationship of academia to systems of domination and oppression.
2012 London / Europe
An alternative school for refugees and asylum seekers set up by Turkish artist Ahmet Ögüt during his residency at the Tate Modern 2012 and now runs courses in several European countries.
2009 Mexico City
Syllabus (Wysing Arts Centre)
2015 Wysing / UK
The Syllabus is a peer-led, non-prescriptive postgraduate alternative managed by Wysing Arts Centre (Cambridge), Eastside Projects (Birmingham), S1 Artspace (Sheffield), Spike Island (Bristol), Studio Voltaire (London), New Contemporaries (London). It is a 10-month programme centred around a series of intensive retreats which are delivered by artists, curators, writers and other practitioners and hosted by a partnership of six England-wide nonprofit visual arts organizations. “Networks” and “conversations” are two of the most frequently used words by those describing the Syllabus. The Syllabus curriculum is intended to foster critical engagement with artists’ practices and what it means to be an artist now and as such will adapt with each iteration. Partner organizations host retreats at roughly two-month intervals, starting and ending at Wysing. Between each retreat, the artists are assigned readings and maintain discussions, sharing suggestions for future weekends.
the tuition for Syllabus is £3000, due to Wysing Art Centre’s Arts Council England funding, Syllabus participants pay only £500, plus an est additional £500 travel. Selection through an Open Call.
The Other MA (TOMA)
2015 Southend-on-Sea, UK
TOMA is a response to the fact that many artists who wish to continue their learning and critical discourse with peers are unable to access most current MA provisions for a number of reasons. Designed to fit the everyday lives of contemporary working artists TOMA is a space to work and develop practice within a critical framework for postgraduate level. TOMA is an unaccredited MA in the traditional sense, but provides a programme of learning that benefits the practice of artists in the same way. A socially engaged model, which works as an artist led co-operative, TOMA takes on parts of the structure of a standard art MA, but is also responsive to its artists. Participants directly steer the study programme, choosing those who comes to teach on it and the topics explored. Funded by its participants TOMA costs £75 per month towards visiting artists, lecturers, practical workshops, a personal tutor, offsite projects, exhibitions, a programme co-ordinator and bookable spaces to make work. TOMA is transparent to participants showing where their money goes each month.
2009 New York / International
Trade School is a non-traditional learning community that runs on barter. We celebrate local wisdom, mutual respect, and the social nature of exchange. The Trade School network is a collective of self-organized barter-for-knowledge schools across the world. Trade School began January of 2009 as an experiment by a group of New York City artists (Caroline Woolard, Rich Watts, and Louise Ma) who built OurGoods, a resource sharing network for the creative community. They received an opportunity to work with a storefront, and came up with barter for knowledge. Over the course of 35 days, more than 800 people participated in 76 single session classes. Classes ranged from scrabble strategy to composting, from grant writing to ghost hunting. In exchange for instruction, teachers received running shoes to mixed CDs to flowers. In 2012, Or Zubalsky joined the team and built an open-source web platform to share with interested local organizers. Today, a collective of local Trade School organizers in different cities across the world organize the project.
Turps Banana is a painting school, art magazine, gallery and studios in South East London focused on painting. The Turps Studio Programme supports mentoring, peer-led learning and invited artists/speakers within an open studio environment. The Correspondence Course is a year long programme of one to one online mentoring with an assigned tutor. Turps Surgeries are individual and group tutorials at Turps Studios. The studio programme runs from Sept-July, the online correspondence course runs from Oct–Aug. The core programme is led and delivered by Marcus Harvey, Phil Allen and Helen Hayward.
2015 North Amercia
Network of radical organizers within, against, and beyond the neoliberal, (neo)colonial university in North America. The network provides common resources on alternatives to gentrification, commercialization, rising student debt and tuition, low wages for university staff and contract labor, and the academy’s attempts to hold a monopoly on the production of knowledge. They work in the tradition of militant inquiry: bottom-up collective learning dedicated to building community capacities for radical social change. They support alternative projects, host encounters and disseminate information and resources to help build solidarity around radical and marginalized forms of knowledge and to sustain and amplify the undercommons; networks of struggle, study and creativity that exist within, outside and in spite of the university.
University for Strategic Optimism
The University for Strategic Optimism was based on the principal of free and open education, a return of politics to the public and the politicisation of public space. “As our university buildings are being boarded up we inhabit the bank as public space. Not just a public space but the proper and poignant place for the introductory lecture to our course entitled ‘Higher Education, Neo-Liberalism and the State’. We will take up only five minutes of your time for our inaugural lecture but will reconvene in different locations on the dates to be found on the syllabus that should be circulating” —University for Strategic Optimism Inaugural lecture, Lloyds TSB, Borough High Street, 24 Nov 2010
Women’s School of Planning and Architecture (WSPA)
1974-1981 United States
An experimental, non-hierarchical, participatory education programme co-founded by Katrin Adam, Phyllis Birkby, Ellen Perry Berkeley, Bobbie Sue Hood, Marie Kennedy, Joan Forrester Sprague, and Leslie Kanes Weisman to provide alternative, active learning experiences for women interested in the built environment, regardless of academic background or training. WSPA’s pedagogy emphasized both personal transformation and social change.